Speaker's bill further ignites water debate

By Marley Shebala
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, June 21, 2012

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T he response to Navajo Nation Council Speaker Johnny Naize's announcement that he is sponsoring legislation to approve the Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Act came fast and furious.

"It's obvious that the grassroots people of the Navajo Nation reject the settlement agreement," Jihan Gearon, executive director of the Black Mesa Water Coalition, stated in a June 13 press release.

During a June 9 press conference, Naize said he introduced the legislation to begin a dialogue between all concerned parties.

Naize's bill, No. 0230-12, must be considered by the Budget and Finance, Resources and Development and Naa'bik'iyati' committees.

On Tuesday, the B&F Committee tabled Naize's bill because it lacked exhibits from the public comment period and resolutions of support or opposition from the 110 chapters. Committee member Jonathan Nez (Oljato/Navajo Mountain/Shonto/Tsah Bii Kin), who made the tabling motion, said that he's been bombarded with statements and documents opposing the settlement that's about two inches thick.

Nez questioned how the committee could properly make a decision on the water deal without being fully informed about what the people and chapters want.

The Resources and Development Committee met on June 5 in Tohajiilee and Naize's legislation was not on their agenda.

Resources Chair Katherine Benally (Chinchilbeto/Dennehotso/Kayenta) sponsored a bill for the Naa'bik'iyati Committee to recommend a thumbs down on the water accord to the Council. The committee unanimously supported Benally's bill on June 16.

The Naa'bik'iyati Committee is scheduled to take up the water settlement on Friday, June 22.

Naize emphasized on June 9 that it's up to the committees and Council to vote approve or disapprove his bill.

"As a leader of the Navajo Nation, I consider the dialogue to have been a healthy one but I believe that we are now in a position in which the conversation should move to the next step," he said. "I believe that honest dialogue on the water rights settlement requires open lines of communication and I also believe that the path to better governance for our people will be determined by how we dialogue on controversial issues such as this water settlement."

He acknowledge that the five-day public comment period that began June 9 could be insufficient for individuals off and on the reservation.

And he said that's why public comments, including resolutions from chapters, would be accepted right up to when the Council votes, which is scheduled for June 27.

Naize denied that he introduced the bill to comply with Shelly's call to the Council to approve the water legislation before the end of the month so that it could go before Congress.

Gearon said that the following chapters have approved resolutions opposing the water settlement: Copper Mine, Coalmine, Fort Defiance, Sawmill, Red Lake, Crystal, Gap-Bodaway, Leupp, Dilkon, Rock Springs, Manuelito, Red Rock, Lupton, and Indian Wells.

He added that resolutions of opposition also have come from the Chinle Agency Council, the Dilkon Veterans Group and Farm Board, Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, and former presidents Milton Bluehouse and Leonard Haskie, and former chairman Peter MacDonald.

"In a united front to oppose this injustice, former Hopi chairmen and Hopi grassroots organizations have also aligned with the Dine Water Rights Committee to oppose the settlement," Gearon said. "Youth, too, have decisively weighed in on the issue."

Sarana Riggs of Next Indigenous Generation stated on Wednesday, "Half of the Navajo Nation is between the ages of 18 and 24 which means that the central government needs to listen to the youth."

Riggs added, "Our vision for the future includes a just transition away from the coal-based economy, a diverse and sustainable economy based on traditional values and true self sufficiency for the Navajo Nation. We will sign these things away if we agree to the settlement."

Marshall Johnson, lead organizer of To Nizhoni Ani agreed.

"This settlement is being fast tracked to satisfy (senators Jon) Kyl and (John) McCain's efforts to continue the legacy of free and cheap electricity and water delivery to central and southern Arizona," he said.

"It's not about providing much needed services to the Navajo people as they claim," he noted. "This should really be called the 'Keep Navajo Generating Station Open Settlement Agreement."

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