This just in from the Gallup Independent…
Forum to focus on Navajo-Hopi coal, water issues
By Kathy Helms
WINDOW ROCK – The people of the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe are at a crossroads, according to former Hopi Tribal Chairman Ben Nuvamsa. The dilemma hinges on whether to continue accepting pennies on the dollar for their resources from outside entities, or take the bull by the horns and create “economic sovereignty” for themselves.
A public forum sponsored by the Inter-Tribal COALition to address tribal water, coal, environmental, cultural and economic issues affecting the tribes will be held at 6 p.m. Sept. 30 on the sixth floor of the Native American Community Building, 4520 N. Central Ave., Phoenix.
Presenters include Daniel Higgins, Ph.D., Sean Gnant of the Brewer Law Firm, Milton Bluehouse Sr., and Nuvamsa. Navajo Nation Council delegates, Hopi Tribal Council members, and interested members of both tribes are asked to attend the forum to learn more about their common issues.
“We believe that we are at the crossroads. Many of these entities are after our water and our coal. We kind of stand, so to speak, at the headwaters of all these resources,” Nuvamsa said.
Coal from the tribes is used to generate electricity so the people in southern Arizona, southern California and Nevada will have electricity in their homes. The massive Central Arizona Project depends on power from Navajo Generating Station so the federal government can deliver surface water to tribes and municipalities in southern Arizona, he said.
“The sad part is that these entities that are using these resources to provide these services to the people and generate profits are not paying us at the fair market value for our water and our coal,” while the tribal councils are prematurely agreeing to settlements without properly informing their people, he said.
“For example, the lease reopener that’s before the Hopi Council – there ought to be increased royalties. Instead of one-time bonuses, there ought to be annual bonuses. There ought to be higher scholarships – $85,000 (for Hopi) is nothing.”
In addition, provisions in the proposed Northeastern Arizona Indian Water Rights Settlement could hold Peabody Energy and others harmless for all past, present and future damages to the water quality. “I think these are the kinds of things that people need to know, that our tribal councils are agreeing to these things,” he said, adding that the companies should be held accountable for damages and the federal government should be held accountable for not enforcing the rules.
“Both nations ought to be able to say, ‘OK, we have this precious resource, we’re going to take all bidders,’ and be able to go out and compete for higher prices, not have it handed to Peabody Coal. We ought to be able to make those decisions ourselves. I call that economic sovereignty,” Nuvamsa said.
During last week’s meeting with U.S. Department of the Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary David Hayes on the proposed water rights settlement – which many have linked to the future survival of NGS and the Central Arizona Project – Shiprock Delegate Russell Begaye said a change of policy may be in order in terms of the use of Navajo resources by outside entities such as Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson and Los Angeles.
Begaye said Navajo historically has focused on “outsourcing” its minerals and water resources rather than looking inward to see how they can be used to benefit the Navajo people. He proposed that Navajo look at developing local community-based generating plants which produce up to 10 megawatts of electricity.
“The town of Shiprock where I’m the delegate – about 18,000 folks – we can probably use 2 to 3 megawatts to run the whole community, and the rest we could outsource and sell to outside entities or other communities on our land, using a combination of coal, wind and solar.”
Rather than building mega-plants to power up electricity in other places, if a company said, “’We want to come alongside you and develop those resources to light up your communities on the reservation, to give water to homes on your land, and be able to do it in such a way that these communities can start selling these sources to outside entities,’ then we’re really talking about a trust responsibility that builds the Nation first,” Begaye said.
“I think the focus needs to turn from Phoenix to the Navajo Nation, from Los Angeles to the Navajo Nation. That policy change, if it takes place, will resolve a lot of our issues. We are sitting on gold mines, but those gold mines are being used by outside entities.”
Navajos travel to major cities across the West and “dream about the days when we may have those stores and those manufacturing plants,” Begaye said, all the while knowing it is Navajo resources which made those developments possible. “Why not let’s turn that inward? Let’s change the policy of outsourcing, to using those resources to build a nation.” He asked Interior to help Navajo in that endeavor.
After Interior officials left, the work session turned from water to NGS and despite efforts by Duane Tsinigine and Nelson Begaye to keep the session open to the public, Nabiki’yati’ Committee voted to go into executive session.
Adella Begaye of Wheatfields, a member of Dine Care, said, “This is very sad because there is no accountability, there is no transparency. All these decisions are made without our consent, without our concern. We have been concerned about the water settlement because 36,000 acre feet is not enough for our Nation, and they are now even trying to settle for $400 million – which is nothing.”
She said it was wrong for Navajo and Interior officials to try to push through the settlement by saying there is just a small window of opportunity because Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., will retire next year and chances for a settlement after that are not likely. “Kyl is for Phoenix to get all the water they can. They’re not for the Navajo Nation.”
Tsinigine left the meeting when it went to executive session. “It’s only fair that all delegates are here to hear these issues, and some of these issues, in general, should be made public. In LeChee, Coppermine and Kaibeto, the majority of the men and women work at Navajo Generating Station and they want to be updated and make sure that the people hear what is at the negotiating table,” he said afterward.
“We’re leaving 75 percent of the Council out of it,” because they were given abrupt notice of the meeting and many had prior commitments, he said. “That’s not fair.”
Marshall Johnson of To Nizhoni Ani, or Beautiful Water Speaks, said the Interior’s visit to discuss their water rights was “like you see on television – a drive-by” that took in the president’s office, Legislative and the Hopi Tribe, but the people, “the original stakeholders,” were left out.
The state of Arizona is the beneficiary of any proposed settlement, he said. During a May hearing in Washington, Shelly and Hopi Tribal Chairman LeRoy Shingoitewa stressed the importance of NGS to the tribes. Johnson, who testified along with Black Mesa Trust Director Vernon Masayesva, opposed extending the lease.
“We told Central Arizona Project it’s about time they get self-sufficient. We’ve been feeding them. They have a $3.5 billion operation in industrial agriculture. We made it available for them. Navajo resources made it possible to push water 3,000 feet elevation uphill. They plant three times a year,” he said. “We have no net benefit from this operation.”