Posts Tagged 'Jon Kyl'

THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC: “An endless tribal water fight” by Jon Kyl and John McCain

The following editorial by Senators Jon Kyl and John McCain appeared in The Arizona Republic on August 13, 2012. The article provides a brief history of Southwest Indian water rights. It also explains their reasons why the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe rejected the Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Act, and expresses hope that the “Indian parties” will one day agree to a resolution that will provide the people with “wet” water instead of “paper” water.

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An endless tribal water fight

Navajos, Hopis opted to let a long-sought settlement slip away

by Jon Kyl and John McCain

“Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting.”
That aphorism, long popular among Western water folks, was the prevailing sentiment in the Southwest for the past century. From the riverbank to Congress to the courts, water users fought for water rights.
But victories were not always satisfying. The best one could hope for was a paper decree quantifying water rights. Especially for Indian tribes, what they really needed was not “paper” water but actual “wet” water.
As a result, parties began to negotiate settlements that not only resolved water claims but also included congressionally authorized funding for Indian water projects, upheld federal trust responsibilities and created certainty for non-Indian communities. Even when all the parties are working together, actually achieving a water settlement — particularly coming up with the funding — is usually very hard to do. We saw that recently with the failure of the settlement that included the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe.

We’ve been asked to provide some history, briefly describe the settlement provisions, and discuss the prospect of a congressional resolution to the decades-long dispute.

The U.S. Supreme Court laid the foundation for Indian water-rights claims in 1908, when it ruled that the United States reserved water for Indian reservations. The nature and extent of those water rights, however, remained unclear. Decades of litigation ensued, with tribes, the federal government, states and numerous other claimants fighting it out at the state courthouse. In Arizona, for example, Indian and non-Indian water users have spent more than 30 years trying to resolve claims to the Gila and Little Colorado rivers — expending millions of dollars in the process. Ongoing litigation has also stifled economic growth and development for communities throughout Arizona.
In recent years, those claimants have found a better way to resolve their competing claims. The negotiated water-settlement framework allows the parties to avoid the high costs and uncertainty associated with protracted litigation, while enabling them to define the extent of their water rights and, with legislation, secure funding to put that water to productive use.
Moreover, settlement affords parties the opportunity to proactively address complex and interrelated water issues in a mutually beneficial manner. They can tailor solutions to their specific circumstances by, for example, developing plans to prevent aquifer depletions or to protect sacred springs (two concerns of the Navajos and Hopis). This is why more than two dozen tribes have opted to settle their claims rather than cede that determination to state courts.
The most recent example of such a settlement involves the White Mountain Apache Tribe, which worked with stakeholders to craft an agreement that will provide its Fort Apache Reservation with a reservoir and drinking-water infrastructure while enabling non-Indian parties to better plan for their water future without the high cost of continued litigation against the tribe. The legislation implementing that settlement was enacted into law in 2010.
Likewise, the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe opted to negotiate with the federal government, Arizona and numerous state parties to resolve their water claims. The initial effort centered on both the Colorado River and the Little Colorado River. While we all would have preferred a settlement for both rivers, the Colorado portion ultimately proved too costly in this fiscal climate, so the settlement focused on the Little Colorado only.
The parties’ representatives negotiated both a settlement agreement and legislation that would have recognized and satisfied the tribes’ claims to the Little Colorado River, placed limits on non-Indian water uses, reserved 27,089 acre-feet of water for a future Colorado River settlement and provided more than $350million in funding for three drinking-water projects to serve the Navajo and Hopi people.
Unfortunately, both tribes voted not to proceed with the legislation. There seemed to be three reasons. First, some objected to the fact that we introduced the legislation before formal approval by the parties — but that is standard practice and was agreed to by the parties’ representatives. The object was to protect our place in the legislative queue pending formal approval of the agreement by each party. Given the limited time available this year to request hearings and move the bill, we believed this was prudent, and we assured the parties that formal approval by all parties — including the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe — had to occur before we would move forward in Congress.
A second concern centered on the inclusion of a provision involving Navajo Generating Station in order to provide the Navajo Nation the option of securing Central Arizona Project water for the significant population in and around Window Rock. Without that option, the additional water would not be available until the Navajo Nation resolved its claim to the Colorado River. We believed it was important to find a way to get water to Window Rock, and after a lot of work, the parties, including Navajo and Hopi representatives, crafted that provision. But their tribal councils identified it as one of the reasons they opposed the settlement legislation.
Finally, it appears that some believed the tribes would be better off litigating their claims in state court, notwithstanding the financial drain of protracted litigation and the fact that litigation produces no funding for projects to put the water to use.
While we respect the Navajo and Hopi councils’ decisions, we regret that they have closed the already narrow window of opportunity to pass legislation this year. With tight fiscal constraints in Washington, we see little prospect for settling their claims with supporting legislation in the foreseeable future. We will, of course, continue to work with all the parties. We particularly hope the Indian parties choose to pursue a resolution that will allow them to achieve not just water rights on paper, but to actually secure “wet” water for their people.
Jon Kyl and John McCain represent Arizona in the U.S. Senate.

PRESS RELEASE – Former Hopi Leaders Want Disclosure

PRESS RELEASE

Former leaders of the Hopi Tribe Object to Senator Jon Kyl’s Bill and Introduce Tribal Legislation to Reject Senate Bill 2109, the “Navajo and Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Act of 2012”.

Contact: Benjamin Nuvamsa, (928) 380-6677

Vernon Masayesva, (928) 255-2356

Ivan Sidney, (928) 205-5504

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Vernon Masayesva, Ivan Sidney and Benjamin Nuvamsa, former Hopi tribal chairmen; and Clifford Qötsaquahu, and Caleb Johnson, former Hopi vice chairmen, have endorsed a Hopi Tribal Council Action Item that would require Hopi Chairman Shingoitewa to call a Special Tribal Council Meeting to listen to the testimony of the Hopi and Tewa People on the federal legislation introduced by Arizona Senator Jon Kyl (R) concerning tribal water rights. The former tribal elected leaders are echoing the concerns of tribal members over the provisions of the water settlement bill introduced by Arizona Senator Jon Kyl.

On February 14, 2012, Senator Jon Kyl (R), introduced Senate Bill, 2109, the “Navajo and Hopi Little Colorado River Rights Settlement Act of 2012”, that contains several dangerous provisions for the Hopi Tribe and which requires a permanent waiver of the Hopi Tribe’s rights to the Little Colorado River and possibly the Lower Colorado River, in exchange for municipal groundwater delivery projects for the Hopi villages.

Former Chairman Nuvamsa said: “We are in the fight of our life. Our tribal government is in the process of negotiating away what remains of our sovereignty, our precious water rights. The Hopi Tribal Council does not have the legal authority to permanently waive and extinguish our aboriginal and ancestral rights to our water. Those rights belong to our traditional villages. The aboriginal rights and powers of our traditional villages have never been, nor will they ever be delegated to the Hopi Tribal Council.”

Former Chairman Masayesva said “Hopi Chairman Shingoitewa and the Water & Energy Team are in the process of permanently waiving our traditional water rights without first consulting with, and gaining approval of our traditional villages and the Hopi – Tewa people.”

Former Chairman Sidney said “Arizona Senators Jon Kyl and John McCain are pressuring our tribal government to permanently sign away our water rights, in exchange for giving outside corporations and interests, exclusive life-of-mine leases to our remaining coal fields and all the free water they need to process the coal to make electricity and ensure the Central Arizona Project canal continues to provide water to non-Indian lands.”

Senate Bill 2109, when it becomes federal law, may permanently waive and extinguish Hopi’s rights to the waters in the Little Colorado River system and possibly the Lower Colorado River system; and will prevent Hopi from filing future claims for damages to water quality and quantity.

This means Hopi cannot file claims for damages to the Navajo Aquifer, for contamination of domestic water supplies, and for the drying of sacred Hopi springs.

“The bill contains empty promises for funding of groundwater delivery projects but exempts the federal government from liability if Congress does not provide funding for the projects. It heavily favors non-Indian interests and will give federal water rights to the Navajo Generating Station. It will ensure that Peabody Western Coal Company continue mining coal and pumping the Navajo Aquifer. If this bill becomes federal law, Hopi may permanently lose all sovereign rights or authority over its coal leases”, said former Vice Chairman Qötsaquahu.

The former Hopi tribal elected leaders said, “Water is sacred and is central to our Hopi and Tewa Way of Life; and we have a sacred covenant to protect our traditions, our ceremonies and our resources. Our ancestors occupied the Colorado Plateau, the Colorado River, and Little Colorado River basins since time immemorial so we have superior aboriginal, ancestral, federal reserved rights to the surface and subsurface waters in the river systems. We have aboriginal water rights under the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The Kyl bill could extinguish these rights. Water rights belong to our traditional villages. These rights have never been delegated to the Hopi Tribal Council so neither Chairman Shingoitewa, the Water & Energy Team, nor the Hopi Tribal Council have the legal authority to waive these rights.”

“We want Hopi Chairman Shingoitewa to honor this request and hold a Special Hopi Tribal Council meeting immediately so that our members can have a say in this important matter. If he does not honor this request, then he will be in direct violation of the Hopi Tribe’s constitution; and we will have no option but to pursue our remedies through our courts.

“We believe it should be our traditional villages and our people, the rightful owners of water rights, who should decide on this matter and not the Hopi Chairman, the Water and Energy Team, and Hopi Tribal Council.”

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Click here for the official press release.

“This bill is not good for Hopi”: Benjamin Nuvamsa on “S.2109 – Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Act of 2012”

February 20, 2012

To the Hopi Tribal Council

To the Hopi and Tewa Senom

On the 100th birthday of the State of Arizona, February 14, 2012, Senator Jon Kyl (R), former Salt River Project attorney, introduced Senate Bill 2109, the “Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Act of 2012”, which would approve the settlement of water rights claims of the Hopi Tribe (and Navajo Nation) and allottees of both tribes. The bill would “resolve litigation against the United States concerning Colorado River operations affecting the States of California, Arizona, and Nevada and for other purposes”. This bill is not good for Hopi.

Senator Kyl, in introducing his bill, said: “Legally, the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe may assert claims to larger quantities of water, but, as seen here, they do not have the means to make use of those water supplies in a safe and productive manner. Among water-law practitioners, the tribes may be said to have „paper water, as opposed to „wet water. Those claims are far reaching, extending beyond the mesas and plateaus of northern Arizona calling into question water uses in California and Nevada”. He continued: “In exchange for legal waivers, the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe will receive critical water infrastructure”. This means the tribes will be required to waive their aboriginal water rights, or Winters Rights, (and rights of individual allottees) in order to receive groundwater delivery projects. But funding for these projects is not guaranteed. In fact, the bill relieves the federal government from funding the operation and maintenance of the projects.

Senator Kyl would not have introduced this bill without first obtaining concurrence of the Hopi Chairman and the Hopi Water and Energy Team. In fact, Hopi Chairman Shingoitewa is quoted in recent news articles as saying “Were very happy that weve gotten to this point where we are able to get things done, and the benefit is for our people”. I disagree with Shingoitewa. This bill is a death sentence because it would forever waive and extinguish the Hopi Tribe’s aboriginal rights, Winters Rights, including the rights of allottees, in exchange for a promise for groundwater projects without guaranteed federal funding. The bill does not acknowledge Hopi’s rights under the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago.

It is no surprise that S.B. 2109 favors non-Indian water users such as the Arizona Public Service, Central Arizona Project, Navajo Generating Station (NGS), and Peabody Western Coal Company. In his presentation, Kyl said: “Importantly…(the bill) provides immeasurable benefits to non-Indian communities throughout Arizona, California, and Nevada”. Kyl, former attorney for the Salt River Project, will retire soon from the Senate and the negotiating teams are in a hurry to complete these agreements before he retires. The non-Indian water users need his continued support.

The bill ensures continued operation of NGS and Peabody Coal Company. It would give NGS about 34,000 acre feet per year of federal water rights that it currently does not own. The existing coal leases, brokered by the late John Boyden, already give Peabody exclusive subsurface rights to our water (Navajo Aquifer), coal and other and minerals. If this bill becomes law, NGS and Peabody would now have federal water rights to continue pumping water from the precious N-aquifer. And, Hopi and Navajo could lose all sovereign rights and authority over the coal leases and NGS operations.

Peabody and NGS damaged our environment, the N-aquifer, and our natural resources through almost 50 years of coal mining on our lands. Peabody pumped over 3.3 million gallons of pristine N-aquifer water each day to slurry coal to the Mohave Generating Station (MGS) until it was stopped by the tribes and MGS shut its doors in 2005. There is evidence now that the N-aquifer has, in fact, been damaged. The study by Dr. Daniel Higgins provides empirical evidence of water level decline at Kayenta and spring discharge decline at Moenkopi from excessive pumping. Our sacred springs are drying up and our drinking water supply is contaminated. But S.B. 2109 requires the tribes to agree to a “waiver and release of claims for water rights, injury to water rights, and injury to water quality from time immemorial and thereafter, forever…”

Our ancestors, Hisat Senom, occupied the Colorado Plateau and the Little Colorado River basin since time immemorial. When the federal government established the Hopi Indian Reservation, it set aside sufficient quantities of water to sustain our people. So, by the 1908 federal court decision in Winters v. United States, we have aboriginal and superior water rights over other water users. Yes, we need critical water delivery infrastructure. Yes, we need to quantify our Winters Rights. But these are aboriginal rights that we must not waive and give up. Water is sacred. It is central to our traditional ceremonies and our way of life. We have a sacred covenant to protect our resources and our Hopi way of life. Our forefathers and elders fought very hard to protect and preserve our sovereign rights. They fought hard to preserve everything that is Hopi. We cannot be forced to violate our moral conscience and abandon our religious rights guaranteed us by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The Hopi and Tewa People have not been consulted, nor have they been informed of the terms and conditions of S.B. 2109 by Shingoitewa and the Hopi Water & Energy Team, yet these officials apparently expressed agreement with the proposed bill to allow Senator Kyl to introduce this bill. We also do not believe the entire Hopi Tribal Council was consulted. And while many question the legal composition of the Hopi Tribal Council, Hopi and Tewa People must mandate the tribal council to immediately reject this disastrous bill. Finally, any agreement to settle Hopi’s water rights must be done only through the vote of the People. Hopi and Tewa People have already demonstrated their disagreement with this Administration’s legislative agenda when they defeated, by a referendum vote, the proposed revision to the tribal constitution.

Benjamin H. Nuvamsa

Former Hopi Tribal Chairman


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© Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert and BEYOND THE MESAS, 2009-2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert and BEYOND THE MESAS with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

About the author

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert (Hopi) is Professor and Head of the Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Arizona.

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