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

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.