Diné still doubt water bill
Questions continue at water bill town halls
By Alistair Mountz
Special to the Times
LEUPP, Ariz., April 26, 2012
(Special to the Times - Donovan Quintero)
Why isn't this in a gym or something? This isn't a big enough place for this kind of meeting.
There's already bad stuff in the aquifers like uranium what are we gonna do about the damage already done to the aquifers?
How much impact do these town hall meetings really have? Is it just a show or something?
Can't we get other attorneys to look at this deal and see if it's good for us?
Peabody, the Navajo Generating Station or Salt River Project aren't even mentioned in the PowerPoint presentation, but they're in this deal.
We need to revise or change this thing so it doesn't end up like another casino.
And that was just the comments that were in English.
Not much has changed about the town hall meetings since they began April 17 in Tuba City.
The PowerPoint presentation still takes about 90 minutes, the size of the meeting places leave a stream of citizens in the parking lot waiting to get in, almost every question from the public is answered by either Ray Gilmore or Leo Manheimer of the Navajo Nation Water Rights Commission, there is a two- to three-hour question and answer session following the PowerPoint, and everybody still gets a bowl of mutton stew and fry bread courtesy Kis-anii catering.
The major changes to Tuesday's meeting in Leupp was the addition of one slide comparing the Northeastern Arizona Indian Water Rights Settlement Agreement approved by the Navajo Nation council in 2010 to the current settlement agreement, and a new less abrasive moderator.
Despite four town hall meetings, the Navajo public still appears unsupportive of the settlement agreement and its companion SB 2109.
In town halls in Tuba City and Pinon a common theme of citizens who attended the meetings was that President Ben Shelly had already agreed to the settlement and the town halls were only advocating the position of the president.
While this was still a concern of speakers in Leupp, another important theme began to take shape: Slow down.
Although many of the nearly 20 speakers shared their individual concerns about the settlement agreement most ended their five minutes by cautioning Navajo leadership about making a fast decision and that "even if it takes 5, 10 or even 20 years we can get a better option," as one community member said.
Two speakers in particular got loud applause from the audience in Leupp. One was Sylvia Chischilly from Tees Nos Pos, Ariz., who said, "I think there's a third option here. We are always talking about Kyl, and a champion. Let's get a sponsor for ourselves that will sponsor our voices, it's about time.
"We can find a way," she continued. "We have engineers. We have hydrologists. My friend who is here has two sons that are engineers. We have lawyers. We sponsored them with scholarships now this is our chance to bring them back and provide them with jobs."
Another crowd pleaser was Leupp Chapter President Thomas Cody. He began by explaining to the audience that Leupp Chapter would soon produce a resolution against the settlement agreement, then proceeded to list the concerns of specific individuals within his chapter.
He listed each by name and read to the assembled leaders exactly what their concern was. He listed nearly 20 names and went well over his five minutes.
Gilmore and Manheimer answered as many of the specific questions from the audience as they could. Manheimer was particularly concerned with the concept of water rights versus water claims and discussed the difference on several occasions.
A constant criticism of the settlement agreement is that both Navajo and Hopi are giving up water rights forever, but Manheimer tried to calm fears about this point.
"If you can walk away from tonight's meeting knowing that you aren't giving up any rights, that's what I want," he said.
The settlement agreement does include waiving claims, the PowerPoint explained and Manheimer emphasized, but this is not the right to water in the first place.
The only thing being waived is the opportunity to ask for more water once the settlement agreement is finalized.
This theme is also a concern of Stanley Pollack, assistant attorney general of the Navajo Nation and better known as the Navajo Nation's "water lawyer."
Pollack was not at the meeting in Leupp but spoke with the Navajo Times recently over the phone about the public's concern regarding losing water rights. (See related story)
"That's a misconception that started from the very outset with Senator Kyl's office," Pollack said, "Their first press release about the bill included that language and unfortunately they still use that language. We are settling water rights claims of the Navajo Nation. We're not giving anything away. The Navajo Nation certainly has water rights."
Pollack's message was identical to the information in the PowerPoint.
" The tribes are waiving claims not rights," the presentation states. "Rights are going to be determined one of two ways. It can be by settlement.
"As part of this settlement we're saying this is what we get and we're waiving our right to more. We're waving claims for more water not the right to get water. Later, if the settlement is approved, if we wanted to go after upstream water users we couldn't, the waivers are to make the settlement permanent.
"The other option for determining rights is trial. When the trial is over the same thing happens, except it's the court that determines Navajo gets X amount of water. Whatever the X is, it's a final binding determination, and you can't ask for more.
"The Navajo Nation doesn't have rights until they are resolved in court, either by settlement or trial," the PowerPoint states. "So, what's being waived is a claim to additional water in the future."
The Leupp meeting lasted past 10 p.m. and despite occupancy laws limiting the crowd to 100 people, 162 people actually signed in as those in the parking lot were able to get in once someone inside the building left.
An interview request with Shelly was denied, and an attempt to review notes of the meeting taken by a representative from Rex Lee Jim's office was also denied.
According to representatives from both offices there is no official transcript of any of the town hall meetings available to the public.
The town halls continued Wednesday night in Teesto, Ariz., and conclude today in Fort Defiance.