Defeat the water crisis in Navajo country

Contact: Jihan Gearon, Black Mesa Water Coalition (928) 380-6684 Ron Milford, Dine’ Water Rights (928) 401-8707
NAVAJO GRASSROOTS CRUSH KYL BILL Navajo Council firmly rejects Navajo Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Agreement

Window Rock, Arizona – On July 5, 2012, after five months of non-stop opposition by Navajo grassroots organizations and citizens against U.S. Senate Bill 2109 and its associated Agreement, just over a hundred Navajo peaceful “water warriors” packed the Tribal Council chamber in Window Rock, Arizona to witness their tribal council vote down the Navajo Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Agreement, 15 – 6. Senate Bill 2109 was introduced to Congress by Jon Kyl (R-AZ) on February 14, 2012, as a centennial gift to the state of Arizona further heightening his legacy as lead negotiator of Indian water settlements.
Primary supporters of S.B.2109, its associated Agreement and companion H.R.4067, consist of Navajo President Ben Shelly, Attorney General Harrison Tsosie, water attorney Stanley Pollack, the Navajo Water Commissioners, and Council Speaker Johnny Naize. Following Kyl’s introduction of the bill Navajo president hired lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck to ensure Congressional approval. The Navajo water commissioners hired Scutari and Cieslak Public Relations, a PR firm to influence Navajo endorsement of the bill.
The amount of capital spent by the Navajo central government to promote the bill against the People’s overwhelming rejection is uncertain. Industry experts, however, estimated approximately close to one million dollars. Noticeable were weekly full page color print ads, press releases, articles, radio ads along with several 2-hour live radio forums, and community lunches and the expense of armed guards at the Water Commissioners’ forums and including travel expenses locally and numerous trips to Phoenix and Washington DC.
Also of interest, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck is a member of American Legislative Council Exchange (ALEC) and Peabody Coal, Salt River Project (SRP), owner and manager of Navajo Generating Station. Senator Jon Kyl has have ties to ALEC, and before his time in Congress was an attorney for SRP.
In contrast, the Navajo grassroots water warriors formed under the central “Dine’ Water Rights Committee” group, are local Navajo environmental and public interest organizations. They include the Forgotten People Corporation, To Nizhoni Ani, Black Mesa Water Coalition, Dine’ Citizens Against Ruining our Environment, Nxt Indigenous Generation, Council Advocating an Indigenous Manifesto, Dine’ Hada’ Asidi, IINA Solutions, and others financed their opposition movement out-of-pocket and with small donations plus an extraordinary amount of teamwork – facilitated by with the aid of internet and cell phones. They also fundraised for one half page ad and three radio forums.

Additionally, presentations were also made to Council committees, and they drove to local communities to inform the Navajo public on the realities of S.B.2109. This resulted in an overwhelming number of comments, petitions, chapter and agency resolutions and a Navajo Human Rights Commission resolution – all against the Kyl bill and water agreement.
In the special session on July 5, a super-majority of the delegates sent a strong message to outside interests that the Navajo Nation will no longer be intimidated into their demands. One by one they sternly voiced their disapproval on various aspects of the settlement.

Then they voted it down 15 to six. Tuba City Councilman Joshua Butler who represents over 8,000 members said not one constituent spoke in favor of S.B.2109. The grassroots water warriors feel that S.B.2109 was also a gift to Navajo Generating Station and Peabody Coal and should not have been included in a water settlement

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. Other parts of the bill and agreement of significant concern were the unclear and too inclusive waiver of water rights, the limitation on the Navajo Nation’s ability to put lands into trust, and the limitation on the tribe’s ability to market or lease surplus water. And, Navajo and Hopi tribes would split over $315 million for three water groundwater-delivery projects, and in turn give up Little Colorado River claims without guaranteed funds.

In their subsequent vote, the Tribal Council voted 15 to 1 in support of Councilwoman Katherine Benally’s legislation to further oppose S.B. 2109 itself (not just the Agreement, as the first vote did), and to prevent the possible resurrection of the Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Settlement Agreement and the lease extension for the Navajo Generating Station, as affirmed in SB2109.
Tribal member Elsa Johnson said, “Two solid votes against the Settlement Agreement Act are historic and heroic. It’s time for Navajo Nation to become a power player at the same level as SRP, other NGS owners, Peabody, and CAP. We’ve been have treated like an unwanted step- child by these corporations and other entities for far too long. They have profited in the hundreds of millions and billons off our resources while we endure health and environmental impacts.”
Don Yellowman, of Forgotten People Corporation stated, “S.B.2109 united the Hopi and Navajo people. After all, we have more in common; we share not only family, but the land and its resources. Last week the Navajo Council Delegates spoke and voted against this genocidal Act and its Agreement. This is a great victory and new beginning. We now seize this opportunity to re-evaluate and assess our common strengths and activate a revitalization that will stimulate social, environmental and economic equity, justice and prosperity for both tribes.”

Hardrock Chapter President, Percy Deal said, “The Navajo Tribal Council acted as a sovereign Nation should, to protect its resources and to speak on behalf of its constituents. I am grateful that they listened to the people. The Council was put under tremendous pressure by the Shelly administration and Senator Kyl. In the end, their constituency was more important. That is true leadership. We now need to move forward with a new team of lawyers and water rights commissioners, those who will protect the rights of The People and our resources and will work with the people.”
The Navajo grassroots water warriors commend the outstanding leadership of the 15 delegates who listened to their constituents. Early on tribal Councilwoman Katherine Benally took it upon herself to champion the movement against S.B.2109, the Agreement, and H.R.4067 with the passionate support of concerned Navajo grassroots citizens to put an end to the Kyl bill and settlement agreement.

The defeat of the water settlement was equally due to the relentless advocacy, and community outreach and citizen made available by grassroots people. Their tireless efforts resulted in a remarkable victory for future generations of Navajos.

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