Sundance Five – Acquitted!


by Janice Jordan, CCWP of San Diego
The five Dine (Navajo) women arrested at last year’s Sundance ceremony were acquitted of all charges in Hopi Tribal Court. Attorney Joe Washington, a member of the legal team, motioned for an acquittal of the trespassing charges against the five women after a four-day trial, which included the jury selection process. Citing a lack of criminal evidence of the trespassing charges, Hopi Chief Judge Gary LaRance dismissed the case and granted an immediate acquittal.
The five women, Ruth Benally, age 87, Elvira Horseherder age, 62, Pauline Whitesinger in her 80’s, Louise Benally and Joella Ashkie, were arrested by Hopi Rangers at a traditional annual Sundance ceremony. There were arrests of 10 other individuals, however it was the violent treatment of the women by the Rangers that galvanized people from around the country to support the women during their court battle. Jury selection was difficult for the Sundance Five’s legal team. Many potential Hopi jurors had to be excused because of their open bias against Dine in the courtroom proceedings.
Since the re-districting of Dine and Hopi land in the 1970’s, conflicts between the two nations have surfaced over issues of grazing rights, building construction and land rights. However, not all Dine and Hopi are at odds. Support for each other’s traditions and family relationships remains especially strong among the elders. Resistance against the re-districting is still active, and up-to-date information can be found at www.blackmesais.org.
Support for the women continues, as there are legal fees and traveling expenses that were incurred during the course of the case. If you are interested in making a donation, please call 619.475.8227.