Penthouse Retrospective

by Jon Stewart and Peter Wiley Originally Published: June, 1981

Mormon Roots | 40 Years Ago This Month

The traditional Hopi, outraged by the hiring of Boyden and the filing of the land claim, decided to file their own claim. They pressed the claims court for restoration of their entire ancestral lands, adding that “we cannot, by our tradition, accept coins or money for this land, but must persist in our prayers and words for repossession of the land itself to preserve the Hopi life.” The claim soon lapsed for want of any BIA — approved attorney to carry it to court. Despite the setback, the traditional Hopi have petitioned virtually every president and high BIA official over the last 30 years, demanding restoration of lands and refusing to accept any amount of money in settlement. In 1958 the traditional Hopi even met with traditional Ute, who were also fighting Boyden, and they jointly demanded that a federal grand jury conduct an investigation of Boyden’s activities. No such investigation was ever held.

The creation of a “representative” tribal council proved a long and arduous task for Boyden and the BIA. But by 1955 the commissioner of Indian affairs finally granted recognition to a group of nine progressive Hopi who claimed to constitute a tribal council. The eight other seats that make up the constitutional tribal council remained unfilled because traditional leaders refused to participate.

Six years later, and many more extra-legal manipulations later, the new tribal council entered into its first mineral-lease agreement. As Boyden had predicted, the mineral leases would bring a steady flow of funds into the tribal coffers. Early oil leases in 1964 resulted in a reported $3 million. To show its gratitude, the tribal council, which Boyden had helped create, voted to pay its attorney a $1 million fee for his efforts. His prediction, made a decade earlier, that oil leases would eventually pay his fees, proved correct.

In 1966 the tribal council, guided by Boyden, signed a lease that entitled Peabody Coal to strip-mine 58,000 acres of the Black Mesa, a mining operation that would come to be known in the environmental movement as The Angel of Death. In the view of Banyacya and the traditionals, the council and Boyden had not only participated in the rape of their sacred land but also sold out the Hopi’s historic duty to protect the earth on behalf of the Great Spirit.

“The land-claims law was the biggest victory ever obtained by government and lawyers over the Indians. It was designed to end all legitimate Indian claims to traditional homelands.”

“We Hopis have to hold the land for the Great Spirit,” says Banyacya. “We cannot take money for it; the land cannot be sold.”

Clearly, the Hopi’s Mormon attorney was eminently successful in opposing the interests of the traditional Hopi. But how well does the Mormon church fare in the Hopi nation in other respects, such as the saving of the Lamanite?

Not so bad, at least from a first glance. Down the road a piece from Banyacya’s home is a modest frame house once owned by Wayne Sekaquaptewa, the editor of the local Hopi newspaper, who died shortly after we visited him. Except for the government, Wayne was the biggest employer on the reservation. He was also the most unabashedly Mormon of all Hopi, and viewed himself as a reincarnation of Jacob Hamlin, the nineteenth-century Mormon missionary to the Hopi. The Hopi religion, he wrote in an editorial, “is not worth practicing and pursuing. It is time to burn up the rest of our supposedly sacred altars and ritual paraphernalia.”

Wayne was also a member of the Hopi’s most prominent Mormon family. His brother Abbot is chairman of the tribal council, while his brother Emory has served as executive director of the tribal council.

For a time, a decade ago, it looked as if the Mormon church were going to be as successful at gathering Hopi souls as Boyden was at gathering Hopi mineral leases. The traditional leaders spoke darkly of a Mormon conspiracy to take over the reservation. Boyden was clearly in control of the council and its relations with the outside world. Stewart Udall, a member of another politically prominent Mormon family, had direct interest in the Hopi and could make his interests felt as the secretary of the interior, who is ultimately responsible for all Indian affairs. In addition, the commissioner of Indian affairs was a Mormon, as were prominent local and national BIA officials. Everywhere a Hopi looked he saw Mormons, and they were inevitably in positions of great power.

Nonetheless, there is no evidence that the Mormons have won the hearts and minds of the Hopi people. Relatively few Hopi children enter the Mormon Child Placement Program, and even fewer remain in it long enough to become indoctrinated. While some Hopi claim that as much as 70 percent of the reservation has been baptized Mormon, most knowledgeable Hopi laugh at such a figure.

And, according to confidential sources within the tribal bureaucracy, distrust of John Boyden himself was beginning to grow in the tribal government. Some of the council members, though they were progressives, were even beginning to talk seriously of hearing from at least one other law firm.

The matter was taken out of their hands when John Boyden died late in 1980, leaving his son Steve in charge of his lingering business and his old BIA Mormon friend Martin Seneca to take over the Ute account. But Boyden had won large cash settlements for the Gosiute and the western Shoshoni, even though tribal leaders from both tribes fought long and bitter battles to fire him and get their lands back. And his firm won a contract from New Mexico’s Zuni tribe and was expected to file a claim that would lead to the extinguishment of another 6 million acres of Indian land, much of it already settled by Mormon ranchers.

The future? Boyden, Wilkinson, and Watkins have gone to their Mormon rewards with the angel Moroni. The church remains, and Tom Banyacya and America’s Indians remain. Two visions of life on earth, two intensely spiritual interpretations of the meaning and value of land and mankind, clashing down through the past and rumbling like distant thunder in the future.

You can find many convergent or differing views regarding the Mormon churd in the region online, but we can get you started if you have an interest.

All religions have roots in concurrent uplifting and occasionally horrific experience. The Mormon church followed Western settlers in general.

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