By: Diné Water Rights Coalition
On November 4, 2010, the twenty-first Navajo Nation Council, the last 88-member Council, gave up the ancestral inherent rights of the Navajo people to their water, by voting yes to the Northeastern Arizona Indian Water Rights Settlement. We are Diné citizens, and we want to let it be known that the 51 delegates who voted for the Settlement, and the 13 who abstained from voting, should be known as the delegates who gave up our inherent rights.
On the other hand, we applaud and thank Hope Lonetree and Kenneth Maryboy. They were the only delegates who spoke for the Navajo people. They exhibited the foresight of true leaders by questioning the Settlement’s entirety and its effects for all Navajo people not only in the present, but into the future. They were also the only delegates who told us they had read the entire Settlement, and it showed in the questions they asked the lawyers and the Water Commissioners. We ourselves have read most of it, and it is not difficult for anyone who actually reads it, to see its many flaws. It makes many promises but offers very little that the Navajo people can depend on. It does not take much math or reading to see that the greatest benefit will go to cities like Phoenix and Tucson, as they continue to take without cost, all but a dribble of our precious water.
We would also like to thank the other delegates who voted with their conscience against this detrimental Settlement. Some we are not sure about. For instance, the Pinon Council Delegate argued in favor of the Settlement during the delegates’ Agency caucus and Council session, yet voted against it in the end. What were his motives in doing this? We suggest that he only voted nay when he knew there were enough delegates to approve the Settlement, so that he could tell his constituents who were against it that he voted no. What a farce!
This day will be remembered especially by our young Navajo people, the ones who worked so hard to educate themselves and the rest of us about this decision. They read the Settlement. They discussed it and did research and asked many questions. They studied how the Navajo Nation government works. Then they traveled all over our Nation at their own expense, to attend the meetings set up at the last minute by the Water Commissioners, to voice their questions and concerns. They came to Window Rock for the Council’s working session, and again for the Agency caucuses and the Special Session.
It was not easy for them. Over and over again they were told, you must respect the Council Delegates. You must speak politely to them. Yet over and over again, this respect was not returned. They were criticized because they dared ask questions, or because they were not fluent enough in Navajo. They were called troublemakers because they cared about our future and were not willing to passively accept what Mr. Pollack and the Water Commissioners told them.
They are not troublemakers. They put themselves through all this for us, because they care about our future. Most of them are college educated. They know about global warming, and global water privatization. They know that in their lifetime, water will become more precious than oil is today. They chose not to just sit around while their own government gave away their future. How many of us would have gone to this much trouble when we were in our twenties?
It was shocking to hear Mr. Pollack, an outsider, and his allies, say bad things about these young Diné, and it was even more shocking that our own Council Delegates said nothing in their defense. These young people will be the ones to carry our Nation into the future. It will certainly not be Mr. Pollack, who will retire to a comfortable life far away from here, when he finishes giving away our water.
In fact all of us were shocked by the behavior of our so-called leaders. They gave themselves permission to vote on this important matter that will affect us all forever, without even bothering to read it! They gave themselves permission even though most of them had already been voted out of office! Even though most of them are under criminal indictments!
They dismissed us saying we had no plan of our own, but when we came up with one, which we called “Fix the Bill,” they ignored it. The Navajo Human Rights Commission passed a resolution on October 1, recommending that the issue be put to a vote of all the people, because the Council’s feeble attempt to inform the people was too little and too late. The Council ignored that too.
At some of the Agency caucuses and twice during the Special Session, they voted not to allow us to speak. But even when we did speak, they couldn’t be bothered to pay attention! While we pleaded with them they ate, read the paper, turned their backs to us, joked and chit-chatted with each other, and dozed off.
We are Diné. These so-called leaders have forgotten who it is that voted them into office. And what about our ancestors? If this decision is allowed to stand, we the Navajo people of today will give up forever, with the stroke of a pen, an irreplaceable part of what they fought for with dignity, unrelenting courage, tears, prayers and offering, when they made their last stand in Hweeldi (Fort Sumner), before they were released to return to their beloved country within the Four Sacred Mountains.
The Four Sacred Mountains have provided this life for us, this way of life protected by the fundamental laws that were given to us long before the United States even existed. It is this life we continue to live, as we continue to practice prayers and offerings as our forefathers did at Fort Sumner. This life was recognized as our ancestral aboriginal right as a sovereign people, in treaties beginning in 1849, and in U.S. Supreme Court decisions as recently as 1981. This life is what we have to protect.
The Settlement approved on November 4 provides Navajos with 31,000 acre feet of water per year from the Lower Colorado River. This is less that the amount of water given every year for free to the Navajo Generating Station (NGS) in Page. Our Council gave up that water for fifty years back in 1968, along with all the rest of the Upper Colorado River, in exchange for a few jobs for our people and a promise of scholarships for Navajo students, a promise that somehow was later forgotten.
The Settlement approved on November 4 contains a long list of waivers. For example, we can never ask for more than this trickle of 31,000 acre-feet from the Lower Colorado River or its tributaries. The whole Navajo Nation, including Utah and the New Mexico portion, waives these rights. It also waives our right to file complaints if future problems arise with the waterlines, or if water becomes contaminated. The waivers ban us from building new reservoirs, or building new water systems for agriculture. Yet Peabody Coal is guaranteed as much water as it wants to continue its destructive operations on Black Mesa, our sacred female mountain.
The Navajo have always been agricultural people. Many of us still grow Indian corn and other crops, and many still raise livestock for subsistence and supplemental income throughout the year. Many more people, including our youth, would do so if there were enough water available. Yet this Settlement plan provides for faucet water only. It will continue to change our way of life in a direction away from the land, and into the cities. It will make it even harder for us to practice true stewardship of the land as Indigenous people, the way our holy people instructed us.
This is what will happen if we continue to follow our tribal government, Little Washindoon, in its blind devotion to those with money and power, the bilagaana CEOs and their lawyers who are behind this deal. They are making sure Phoenix and Tucson and Las Vegas never have to worry or even think about water. We have 24 members who voted against the Settlement Plan, most of whom who are decent people looking out for the future generations. They had the dignity to stand up for the rights of their people to do the right thing. The other 64 members who voted for the Settlement or abstained will have to slink away, knowing that they voted to do away with Navajo sovereign rights, the ancestral inherent right to fight for what is rightfully ours in our own land. They will go down in Navajo history as the ones from the last 88-member Council, who gave away the ancestral inherent rights of their people:
Evelyn Acothley, Bodaway-Gap/Cameron/Coppermine
Leonard Anthony, Shiprock
George Apachito, Alamo
George Arthur, T’istoh Bikaad/San Juan/Nenahnesad
Pete Ken Atcitty, Shiprock
Andy R. Ayze, Chinle
Lorenzo C. Bates, Upper Fruitland
Harriett K. Becenti, Manuelito/Rock Springs/Tseyatoh
Elmer P. Begay, Dilkon/Teesto
Kee Allen Begay, Jr., Many Farms/Round Rock
Mel Begay, Coyote Canyon/Mexican Springs
Sampson Begay, Jeddito/Steamboat/Low Mountain
Willie Begay, Chilchinbeto/Kayenta
Katherine Benally, Dennehotso
Ralph Bennett, Crystal/Red Lake/Sawmill
Ray Berchman, Oak Springs/St. Michaels
Jerry Bodie, Sanostee
Leonard Chee, Birdsprings/Leupp/Tolani Lake
Harry H. Clark, Chinle
Harry Claw, Chinle
Jack Colorado, Bodaway-Gap/Cameron/Coppermine
Herman Daniels, Sr., Oljato
Leslie Dele, Tonalea
Roy B. Dempsey, Oak Springs/St. Michaels
Cecil Frank Eriacho, Ramah
Jerry Freddie, Dilkon/Teesto
Tim Goodluck, Houck/Lupton/Nahata Dziil
Nelson Gorman, Jr., Chinle
Philllip Harrison, Jr., Red Valley/Cove
Lee Jack, Sr., Whitecone/Indian Wells
Rex Lee Jim, Rock Point
Raymond Joe, Tachee/Blue Gap/Whippoorwill
Norman John II, Twin Lakes
Tom Lapahe, Tachee/Blue Gap/Whippoorwill
Roy Laughter, Chilchinbeto/Kayenta
Joe M. Lee, Chichiltah
Woody Lee, Sweetwater
Lena Manheimer, Ts’ah Bii Kin/Navajo Mountain
Kee Yazzie Mann, Kaibeto
Raymond Maxx, Coalmine Canyon/Toh Nanees Dizi
Lawrence T. Morgan, Iyanbito/Pinedale
Herman R. Morris, Naschitti/Tohatchi
Johnny Naize, Tselani/Cottonwood/Nazlini
Larry Noble, Jeddito/Steamboat/Low Mountain
Lawrence R. Platero, Tohajiilee
Francis Redhouse, Teec Nos Pos
David B. Rico, Pueblo Pintado/Torreon/Whitehorse Lake
Bobby Robbins, Sr., Coalmine Canyon/Toh Nanees Dizi
David Shondee, Chilchinbeto/Kayenta
Danny Simpson, Huerfano
Leonard Teller, Lukachukai/Tsaile/Wheatfields
GloJean Todacheene, Shiprock
David L. Tom, Beclabit/Gadiiahi
Young Jeff Tom, Mariano Lake/Smith Lake
Willie Tracey, Jr., Ganado/Kinlichee
Leonard Tsosie, Pueblo Pintado/Torreon/Whitehorse Lake
Tommy Tsosie, LeChee
Thomas Walker, Jr., Birdsprings/Leupp/Tolani Lake
Harold Wauneka, Fort Defiance
Elbert R. Wheeler, Many Farms/Round Rock
Harry J. Willeto, Nageezi/Ojo Encino/Counselor
Harry Williams, Sr., Coalmine Canyon/Toh Nanees Dizi
Peterson B. Yazzi, Naschitti/Tohatchi