By : Jihan Gearon
Ron Milford, Dine Water Rights Committee (928) 401-8707
Jihan Gearon, Black Mesa Water Coalition (928) 380-6684
Window Rock, AZ Last week the Naabikiyati Committee of the 22nd Navajo Nation Council voted 13-0 to approve Councilwoman Katherine Benallys legislation to oppose the Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Act of 2012, also known as S2109 and HR4067. A movement of Navajo grassroots organizations and individuals opposing the settlement and calling themselves the Dine Water Rights Committee were overjoyed to see their Council take a step in the right direction but know the battle is not over. S2109 was introduced to Congress by Arizona Senator Jon Kyl in February and since then has been fast tracked for approval by the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribal Councils. The Navajo Nation Council is set to make their final decision on the settlement next Wednesday, June 27th.
I want to express my gratitude to our leaders that stayed late last Friday, listened to their people and voted no on S2109, said Elsa Johnson, Director of Iina Solutions. Given that the grassroots people are overwhelmingly opposed to the entire settlement, I urge them to stand strong and expect them to vote against the agreement as well. The Dine Water Rights Committee has collected hundreds of petition signatures and people have written hundreds of letters against the settlement. Opposition is further evidenced by the 22 chapter resolutions that have been passed opposing the settlement. The Committee has also sponsored nine community forums and attended each of the Navajo Nation Water Rights Commissions seven town hall meetings. At each of these gatherings, the vast majority of Navajo citizens expressed opposition to the settlement. Furthermore, at the Councils public meetings in Ganado and Pinon this week, the grassroots have continued to oppose the settlement.
Last weeks vote by the Naabikiyati Committee applied to only half of the larger settlement, which includes both the act and the agreement. During the discussion of Benallys legislation last week, Council delegates listed several reasons they were opposed to the Act including the extension of leases to the Navajo Generating Station, the unclear waiver of water rights, the limitation on the Navajo Nations ability to put lands into trust, and the limitation on the Nations ability to market or lease their water. Paramount among their objections was that Senator Kyl and Congress put the cart before the horse by moving forward with the Act before the Navajo people and Council members had time to debate, discuss and make a decision on the settlement.
I hope the vote against S2109 and HR4067 sends a message to the federal government that their usual practice of forcing policies on us that sacrifice our peoples resources and livelihoods to benefit big cities and extravagant lifestyles is coming to an end. Navajo people are rooted to their land and water, and our people want to be actively involved in decisions that will impact our future, states Jihan Gearon, Executive Director of the Black Mesa Water Coalition. Im glad our Council voted against the Act but they have to vote against the agreement as well if they want to truly make a statement and represent the people.
In an attempt to understand the relationship between the act and the agreement, the Dine Water Rights Committee inquired with Dr. Jack Utter, an instructor on federal Indian water law and water rights. Dr. Utter characterizes the agreement as the legal heart of the whole settlement, the settlement including both the Act and the agreement. He further explains that, the Act (S2109) only exists for the agreement and simply gives Congress the opportunity to ratify, approve, and amplify the agreement.
“President Shelly, Stan Pollack, and the Water Rights commission are trying to confuse the Navajo people by telling them the Act is different from the Agreement, but in actuality they are integral to each other and part of the same whole, explains Ron Milford of the Dine Water Rights Committee. “If our tribal council truly disagrees with the minimizing of our water rights, the across-the-board waiving of important rights such as the Winter’s rights, and the clear giveaway of $40 million a year in valuable Navajo water in the NGS water provisions, then the delegates should absolutely vote no on the Agreement as well.”
The Navajo Nation Council is set to make their final decision on the entire settlement next Wednesday, June 27th in Window Rock.
The Dine Water Rights Committee includes Black Mesa Water Coalition, To Nizhoni Ani, Nxt IndigenousGeneration, Council Advocating an Indigenous Manifesto, Forgotten People Corporation, Dine Citizens Against Ruining the Environment, and many Navajo individuals. For more information, please visit: http://www.facebook.com/waterrights.