Unlike other forums, Teesto is calm

By Alistair Mountz
Special to the Times

TEESTO, Ariz., May 3, 2012

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(Special to the Times - Alistair Mountz)

"You two up front," Mary Morris, 84, of Sunflower Butte near Dilkon, said to Vice President Rex Lee Jim and Council Delegate Elmer Begay at the Teetso town hall April 26, "need to pay attention to the voice of the people. Don't forget us. Don't lie. You are elected."

T he Reverend John Nells of Teetso said the invocation and maybe it was his prayer or perhaps due to President Ben Shelly's absence, but the Little Colorado River settlement town hall April 26 was the most calm yet.

No protesters. No long lines in the parking lot waiting to get in. The urgency and seriousness of the speakers was present, but the atmosphere was subdued.


Update in the Valley focuses on water

Leo Manhemier, who did part of the PowerPoint presentation at other town halls, also was not in attendance as was a good deal of support staff for the president.

As a result, water commissioner Ray Gilmore essentially did the presentation then answered questions.

The PowerPoint has remained essentially the same since the first meeting April 17 in Tuba City. The two key points are that the Navajo Nation is waiving claims not rights, and that the tribe should either settle the water claims or continue fighting in court.

The presentation emphasizes that if the Navajo Nation decides to not approve the settlement and continues the legal battle in Apache County Superior Court, a judge's decision could put a limit on the amount of water the Navajo Nation is entitled to.

The presentation also explains the settlement would not only give the Navajo Nation the right to use all the Little Colorado River water that comes to the reservation, it also includes infrastructure to bring water to communities like Teetso and protections of water in the river and in underground aquifers.

Teesto residents were more in favor of the settlement than crowds had been in Tuba City, Pinon and Leupp.

"The southwest part of the Navajo Nation is lacking in all areas especially water," said Teetso resident and Navajo County supervisor Jesse Thompson. "We can not improve our situation without an adequate supply of water."

Although skeptical that the Navajo Nation will receive what's promised in the settlement, Thompson still seemed supportive.

If the settlement agreement is approved by the Navajo Nation Council, Teetso would be one of 14 reservation communities that would benefit from two projects that would take water from the C aquifer and distribute it as drinking water.

Others were in favor of the agreement as well.

Teesto Chapter Vice President Elmer Clark spoke on behalf of the Dilkon Steering Committee and said they support the agreement. He urged the community to consider the alternatives of not settling.

"If there is no water settlement we are back to depending on the Bureau of Reclamation Water Projects," he said. "If we go back to BOR, who is going to fund these projects?"

Leroy Thomas, a Teetso resident, said, "This is an opportunity. Let's take it right now. We have no water rights, we need our water rights."

Birdsprings resident Robert Karr said, "I am speaking on behalf of those passed on from cancer, leukemia and heart attacks. Ninety-nine percent of you are very fortunate to get water whenever you want, to take a hot shower whenever you want. All we want is a cup of water."

Karr continued, "If we continue to fight one another they're gonna give it to the biligáanas and then they'll decide for us."

Holly Barton, a Dilkon resident and recent Arizona State University graduate with a degree in sustainability, questioned the use of the C-aquifer for drinking water.

"What is the recharge process?" she asked. "You said the C-aquifer is confined so how do we recharge it? We have to visualize the future. In 100 or 200 years how do we ensure quality and availability of this water?"

Other questions included why the Navajo Generating Station and Peabody Mine are included in SB 2109. This detail is not mentioned in the PowerPoint presentation.

Concerns also centered on why the Navajo Nation is rushing approval of the settlement to satisfy Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, why water is being taken from the Navajo Nation to fill the fountains and swimming pools of in southern Arizona, and how the settlement could impact ranching.

Marshall Johnson of Pinon was the most outspoken against the agreement.

"Our prayers and traditions are not part of this agreement," he said.

"The executive body is running the show," he said. "It should be the legislative body. There are only seven meetings. There should be 110 meetings."

Vice President Rex Lee Jim said even he had suspicions of Washington but cautioned, "If we make changes to the settlement, it has to have approval of all the parties. This could delay any settlement for years."

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