Hopi and Navajo leaders respond to Senator Kyl’s editorial

To the editor:                                                                     April 5, 2012

We take this opportunity to respond to Arizona Senator Jon Kyl’s April 4, 2012, letter to the editor of the Arizona Daily Sun concerning Senate Bill 2109, the “Navajo and Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Act of 2012”, wherein he suggests that those who oppose this settlement are providing false information and leveling untrue attacks against the settlement.

The fact of the matter is that S.2109 is not an Indian water rights settlement act. It does nothing to quantify the water rights of the Navajo and Hopi tribal nations to the Little Colorado River and is in direct contravention of the Winters Doctrine. Rather, it is a backhanded approach to providing federal benefits and protections to entities that exploited the natural resources of our tribes for their own economic gain. It ensures that non-Indian corporate interests continue mining our coal and pumping our Navajo Aquifer to produce cheap electricity and deliver wet water to benefit southern Arizona, southern California and southern Nevada, under the guise of an Indian water rights settlement.

It requires the tribes to give Peabody Western Coal Company (Peabody) and the Salt River Project (SRP) and other owners of the Navajo Generating Station (NGS) tens of thousands of acre-feet of tribal water annually, without compensation. In other words, it gives NGS, a corporate entity, a federal water right. It also requires the tribes to extend the Peabody and NGS leases to 2044 without regard for past and continuing harmful impacts to our health, water supplies, water quality and damage to our precious Navajo Aquifer, as a necessary pre-condition to receiving minimal domestic water pipelines.

S.2109 requires the tribes to waive all protections against injury to water quality “from time immemorial and thereafter, forever”. It also requires the tribes to permanently waive all water rights to the Little Colorado River “from time immemorial and, thereafter, forever that are based on aboriginal occupancy of land by the (tribes) and Members of the (tribes) or their predecessors”. The settlement Senator Kyl is pushing is not “consistent with previous water settlements in New Mexico, Montana and Arizona”, as he claims.

We do agree that “it is time to set the record straight”. S.2109 is not a water rights settlement act. It is a license to continue the exploitation of our precious natural resources while threatening our tribal sovereignty. S.2109 is very dangerous for the Navajo and Hopi tribal nations and is not acceptable to members of our respective tribes.

Water is life. Water is sacred; it is central to our way of life, to our ceremonies and traditions. We must protect and preserve it for our future generations.

With all due respect,

Vernon Masayesva, Former Chairman – Hopi Tribe
Ivan Sidney, Former Chairman – Hopi Tribe
Benjamin Nuvamsa, Former Chairman – Hopi Tribe
Milton Bluehouse, Former President – Navajo Nation

A Forum to Address Tribal Water, Coal, Environment, Cultural and Economic Issues Affecting Hopi Tribe & Navajo Nation – Phoenix, AZ, Sept. 30, 2011

A message from The Inter-Tribal COALition Sponsers…

Hopi and Navajo coal and water are a precious commodity that are the envy of the State of Arizona, Southern California, Nevada, federal government, Peabody Coal Company, Salt River Project, owners of the Navajo Generating Station, cities and towns in the Southwest, and the southern Arizona Indian tribes, among others.  These entities have competing and conflicting interests in our precious natural resources, yet they have not been willing to compensate our tribal nations for mining and pumping of our resources at fair market value. We are at a critical “Cross Roads” and time is ripe for us to exercise our sovereign rights to seek economic and environmental justice, yet our tribal councils have been agreeing to the demands of the federal government, Peabody Coal, Salt River Project, et. al., while compromising any leverage we may have to maximize economic benefits for our people, promote and require environmentally and culturally relevant operations in generating electricity.

Our resources make it possible for the federal government to meet its obligations with tribes in Southern Arizona under their water rights settlements.  Our coal and water make it possible to generate electricity for lift stations along the massive Central Arizona Project water delivery systems so that the tribes and municipalities can receive their surface water needs.  Our coal makes it possible for families in Arizona, Nevada and Southern California to enjoy the conveniences of having electric power in their homes.

Recently both Navajo and Hopi tribes agreed to settle the RICO lawsuits with the federal government, Southern Cal Edison and Peabody Coal (and hold them harmless for past violations) without consulting with tribal members.  A huge proposed water rights settlement agreement is now before the tribes for consideration.  There have been numerous lease violations at Black Mesa by the Peabody Coal Company which have gone unaddressed for years.  Recently, President Obama withdrew EPA’s proposed air emissions standards that would have affected the Navajo Generating Station and other coal powered power plants.  And while the federal government and Peabody Coal Company have been asserting that there are no damages to the N-Aquifer from Peabody’s excessive withdrawals of the N-Aquifer, there is a recent study that challenges these claims.

We invite you to come to this forum to learn about these issues and talk about what we, as tribal members and tribal nations, can do to address these issues.  Knowledge is power.  Learn about these complex issues so that you can hold your council members accountable for making informed decisions on your behalf.  Special invitations go out to Hopi and Navajo tribal members (reservation and off-reservation), and council members/delegates from both tribes.  Spread the word.

The Inter-Tribal COALition Sponsers