Former Hopi chair at peace with terminal cancer

by Felicia Fonseca

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A former Hopi chairman who helped put an end to a decades-old land dispute in northern Arizona between the tribe and the Navajo Nation has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Instead of fighting the disease with chemotherapy, Ferrell Secakuku is letting nature take its course, his daughter, Kim Secakuku, said.
``He just feels that whatever time is given to him is a blessing,'' she said.

Ferrell Secakuku, 69, served as chairman from 1994 to 1997, helping negotiate the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement. The act was worked out after a federal judge in 1991 ordered the two tribes to reach an agreement over land they had been quarreling over since the 1800s.


At the time, Secakuku said the agreement was important in providing a way for Navajo and Hopi families to live in harmony on the land in northern Arizona.

Arizona Sen. Albert Hale, a Window Rock Democrat who once served as president of the Navajo Nation, recalled his first meeting with Secakuku at a Flagstaff hotel in 1995. The two tribal leaders talked about the land dispute.

``He was very responsive, very accommodating and very willing to sit down and listen and talk about the issues,'' Hale said.

Hale described Secakuku as a ``good neighbor'' who was willing to consider the Navajos' position as the two tribes worked on various issues, including the settlement.

Kim Secakuku said her father had been feeling ill for some time, but the family was unsure whether it was related to his health or his age. They learned of the diagnosis last week.

``This is just part of life, and things happen, and you accept the situation and basically, I'm at peace with it,'' she recalled her father saying.

The family is planning a celebration of Secakuku's life Monday in Kykotsmovi, Ariz., at the veterans memorial center.

Secakuku was born Nov. 13, 1937 in the Village of Sipaulovi.

His interest in preserving Hopi tradition and culture led him to Northern Arizona University in 2004 to study cultural anthropology, earning a master's degree last year. As part of his thesis, he wrote about the connection between Hopi migrations and the indigenous people of Mexico.

Part of his effort to preserve culture on the more than 2,500-square-mile reservation included annual pilgrimages to help families gather eagle feathers for use in ceremonies.

He also composed and recorded songs in the Hopi language to help children learn about the culture, Kim Secakuku said.

``There are times now I hear it on the Hopi radio,'' she said.

For now, Ferrell Secakuku is in hospice care in Flagstaff, Ariz., and is concentrating on spending time with his friends and family, including his six daughters.

Kim Secakuku said although her father's accomplishments are many, including securing funding for a health care center and special diabetes projects, he wanted to do much more.

``He's full of knowledge,'' she said.