Letters: Concerned, distressed with NGS demise

I am gravely concerned and distressed with how the pending demise of the Navajo Generating Station is being pursued.

It is deeply troubling to learn that our leaders continue to back an industry that is clearly on its way out. There are cleaner ways to produce energy and serve the needs of not only our Navajo population but of our neighboring communities and states.

I strongly urge you to:

  • Review and reappraise the terms of the Navajo Generating Station’s impending closure so that there is an equitable and fair compensation for the employees, community and environment;
  • Stop all proposed plans to secure another stakeholder to replace the Salt River Project;
  • Refrain from entertaining possible business ventures wherein the Navajo Nation is projected to become a replacement stakeholder;
  • Resist any and all efforts to utilize and expend Navajo Nation funds to revive a declining industry;
  • Desist from making any impetuous, impulsive and injudicious agreements to plans and settlements not in the best interest of the Navajo population; and
  • Search out ingenious renewable resources that have the potential for greater returns with less harmful effects to and on our citizens, community and environment.I implore you, as leaders of our Navajo Nation, to become more informed and to truly think, plan and initiate ideas with sound solutions for the betterment of the entire Navajo population.

The May 2017 Summary from the Institute for Energy Economics details the reasoning for the closure of the Navajo Generating Station and is the position of one stakeholder. It is incumbent upon the Navajo Nation Council and president to submit a comparable summary or position statement to clearly and unequivocally communicate the concerns of the Navajo constituency.

I am appealing to your integrity to make honest and sincere decisions for the welfare of our Navajo people. Open your eyes, coal is dying –it has been declining, it is limited and definitely going the way of the dinosaurs.

The writing has been on the wall for some time –it is time to become more proactive, innovative and enterprising. We, as a nation, are being left behind in seeking and utilizing alternative forms of energy.

I urge you to search out and consult with other tribal nations, states, countries, and bring our Navajo Nation up to date with sustainable energy.

Please do not continue to let our future go up in smoke.

Wanda Hadley
Kitsille/Black Mesa, Ariz.

Dire concerns about Dilcon school board, principal

On behalf of the parents, staff and community, I am writing this document to address dire concerns about the unsafe environment stemming from the Dilcon Community School Governing Board and Principal William Wachunas.

Over the past two years, parents and teachers have observed Wachunas seriously lacking the ability, vision and leadership that this school needs from its principal. Unfortunately, the governing board supports this type of person.

The governing board gave the non-Navajo principal a three-year contract after being hired for only five months violating the Navajo Preference Law to hire a qualified Navajo. In this case, there were qualified Navajo applicants that met the qualifications.
Governing board meetings are held on Sundays exceeding the meeting limit for the school year. In the governing board policy, they are to meet the first Tuesday of each month. Is this because the president is a Bureau of Indian Education employee to avoid conflict of interest? According to the government ethics-Hatch Act, BIE employees are not to be involved in politics and not to be elected in a public election.

The governing board supports and allows the principal to violate rules, policies and ethics and mistreatment of students, community and staff. This especially applies to the president who has been on the governing too, too long, is arrogant, rude, lacks compassion, and is disrespectful to the people that voted her in.

The principal does not understand the Navajo people and their concepts of relationships, culture, language, and etiquette. He consistently disrespects community members and yells at staff and children in large audiences and public events. He uses foul language in front of employees and students.

Not all community members and students understand this type of erratic behavior. Navajo people are taught not to behave as such.
At the parent meetings, the principal takes over. He doesn’t give parents a chance to express their concerns. He shuts them out by interrupting before they are finished talking. He gets angry and defensive.

The principal lacks integrity and gives false information to cover up for violations and things that are not happening. He reveals student’s names and information at public meetings.

Parent concerns are not taken seriously, only when they apply to an employee, and uses information to threaten employees without finding out the truth. This tactic is also used against students and at times the students have been suspended without following the disciplinary policies outlined in the student handbook, even students in exceptional programs and disabilities. This was observed at meetings or expressed in public without practicing confidentiality.

The greatest concern is the violation of the religious rights of staff when they ask for leave to attend traditional ceremonies and practices by denying leave or providing written documents to justify their leave. Most ceremonies are done without written documents or programs.

He tends to forget that he is in Navajo country where traditional ceremonies and religion has been practiced for many years.
The majority of the staff who are comprised of local community is in fear of the principal and work under an unhealthy and hostile environment. They take it and stay because of the lack of jobs on the Navajo Reservation. The school is the largest employment place in Dilkon.

The staff lacks working together in a harmonious environment. The principal pulls away from the “team approach” to things, believing that a handful of employees, the “chosen few” are the only one with anything valuable to contribute. They are allowed to cancel classes.

Two of them admitted to using physical exercise to discipline students, a violation of the School Wellness Guide with the principal’s knowledge. As a result, there is animosity towards the staff from the chosen group and vice versa.
The staff have all been suffering unbearable oppression under his leadership. The principal’s intimidation, military tactics and ruthless style of management has been immensely condescending and belittling É Consequently, morale has plummeted to an all-time low.

For obvious reasons, it has been taken to the authorities on the governing board who ignore this type of behavior even if it has been addressed to them.

Certified staff are hard to find, yet the principal harasses them to the point of them leaving to avoid the unbearable treatment. Four highly qualified and certified teachers left with the governing board supporting this without regard of retaining highly qualified educators.

Most of the staff that are teaching full-time lack certification. This is in violation of the education requirements as required by the Navajo Department of Education, Advanced Education and Arizona Department of Education.

Principal does not follow up on expectations of teachers and staff, only to threaten. Classroom visits to observer teachers are rare. Principal comes only to yell at the students or teachers.

Exceptional education laws are not followed. Meetings are conducted without following the law and guideline. Teachers do not follow the IEPs and do not follow the student programs. Stakeholders at our school are not implementing the law that ensures children with disabilities to have opportunities to receive a free appropriate public education.

Parents and family members ask that the BIE to look into this matter as soon as possible.

Clearly, our school is suffering because of inadequate vision and leadership from this principal at Dilcon Community School. Both parents and teachers have lost confidence in the principal’s abilities.

It is feared that if William Wachunas remains principal of Dilcon Community School, the teachers will no longer be successful in providing the kind of quality education that Navajo students deserve. And that is simply not acceptable; these Navajo children, parents, community, and staff deserve better.

Therefore, on behalf of concerned parents, students, and teachers alike, I ask you to speak out on this serious situation and bring this matter to the next school board meeting. We are the stakeholders that voted the board into their elected positions. We must be heard. The board must act to protect our school and children.

Leticia Nez
Dilkon, Ariz.

Change NGS to renewable energy

Navajo legislators and President Begaye must consider important unresolved issues related to Navajo Generating Station and Peabody mining facing the Hopi people as they wrestle with legislation to decide the future of the power plant’s operations.

The first is the expiration of a 10-year Generation Performance Agreement between Salt River Project and the Hopi Tribe under which SRP, not Peabody Western Coal Co., pays Hopi coal royalty fees.

Under the agreement, which ends Dec. 31, 2017, there is a provision that the agreement will be “automatically” extended for another 10 years to 2027 if the royalty rate structure remains the same as agreed to by SRP, the Hopi Tribe and PWCC in the 2007 agreement. So far none of the parties to the agreement has called for renegotiation; therefore, the GPA is still binding on SRP.

In view of the decision by SRP officials to shut NGS down at the end of this year, SRP will not want to extend the agreement, but SRP cannot unilaterally make that decision. It will have to be settled with the Hopi Tribe.

This will take time because the Hopi Tribe operates under a constitution that mandates input from 12 independent villages. Four villages –Orayvi, Hotevilla, Lower Moencopi and Shongopavi –do not recognize the Hopi Tribal Council and do not send representatives to the council. These villages contain the majority of the Hopi population.

Second, the coal lease agreement between PWCC and the Hopi Tribe expires in 2025. Because PWCC is the sole supplier of coal, it will want to shut its mining operation before 2025 unless a buyer is found to take ownership of NGS. Like SRP, PWCC cannot make a decision to end mining operations. Settlement negotiations will be required and will require consent from the villages.
Equally significant is the Life-of-Mine permit issued to PWCC by former Secretary of Interior Manuel Lujan in 1990 to mine coal from Kayenta Mine, located on the Former Joint-Use Area, to the year 2025.

Under the Kayenta Life-of Mine permit is a provision requiring PWCC to apply for an “operating permit” every five years. The application is then reviewed by the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. If there are no significant changes to the mine plan, the operating permit is automatically extended for another five years.

The current five-year permit ends 2020. It is not likely, in view of the current controversy over the future of NGS and mining, that the operating permit will be automatically extended to 2025. Black Mesa Trust will challenge any decision to extend the permit.

BMT wants to avoid the quagmire of litigation that is certainly going to happen and has therefore prepared an alternative proposal that will mitigate the economic and employment hardships that the closure of NGS and the mine will create, particularly for Diné employees, not Hopi. There are fewer than a dozen Hopis working at the mine; no Hopis work at NGS.

In its simplest term, BMT’S alternative proposal is a transitional plan to replace coal-fired NGS with a mix of natural gas, wind and solar generation. It is a movement toward 100 percent renewable energy that will become a key economy for the Hopi Tribe and Diné Nation and a major source of jobs.

The other component is to bring water from Lake Powell to Hopi and parts of Western Navajo by supporting North Central Arizona Water Supply Feasibility Study. The Hopi Tribal Council endorsed the project in 2013.

In addition to, but separate from BMT’s proposal, is a proposed plan to set-up the Colorado Plateau Clean Energy Initiative. It will be an applied research center that will develop a glide path to a sustainable economy based largely on generating and transmitting renewable energy to the market using predominantly Hopi and Diné resources. Smaller scale units can also be constructed on Hopi and Navajo lands.

Initial funding for planning will come from the sale of SO? credits resulting from the permanent closure of Mohave Generating Station in 2005. Coal mined on Black Mesa Mine was the sole-source power used in running the 2,250-megawatt station located in Laughlin, Nev.

The California Public Utility Commissioners, which regulated MGS, told Southern Cal Edison, operator of MGS, to deposit the proceeds of the sale of SO credits into an escrow account. The commission further stated that a portion of the funds is to be used to help Hopi and Diné plan and develop renewable energy on tribal lands as an economic enterprise.

Black Mesa Trust and the Dine’ Just Transition Team are eligible to apply for funds. Neither the Hopi Tribe nor the Navajo Nation is eligible. However, with support of the Navajo Nation president and Hopi tribal chairman we have a good chance of getting the funding needed to bring together the smartest, most innovative, and most creative Hopi and Dine professionals to work toward building a permanent sustainable homeland for future generations of our children.

We can become the energy capital of Arizona and showcase how energy companies, tribal nations, nonprofit organizations like the Arizona Community Foundation and Futures for Arizona, and universities can work together for the benefit of all citizens of the great state of Arizona. Together we can significantly increase the gross economy of Arizona, the Hopi Tribe and the Navajo Nation. Among the beneficiaries will be the public schools in Navajo, Coconino and Apache counties.

BMT’s copyrighted proposal is available at www.blackmesatrust.com. It was prepared by Diné engineer Glen Manygoats.

Vernon Masayesva
Director, Black Mesa Trust Kykotsmovi, Ariz.

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A fun word problem

I was reading an article in the May 25th edition (“Mom turns to breakfast burritos to raise money for Head Start”), and it got me thinking of a fun word problem.

If Sally, her sister, and her sister in-law make 35-40 burritos a day, every day for a month and a half, and sell them for $3 each, how much money do they make?

Then, what is the difference between that and $500?

The fun part of the exercise is figuring out where the difference Ê(if any) is. And of course, don’t forget to show your work.

Jonathan Gregg
Gallup, N.M.

Handicapped doors not working

Concerning senior citizens and those who need to use the handicapped access door(s) at the Shiprock Post Office, I first noticed that the doors do not open with the access button about three months ago from neither the outside nor the inside. There is a notice that indicates one door is “out of order” and the other door does not work at all.

Basically, there is not an entrance or an exit specifically for the disabled. They would need assistance to open the door to go into the post office or to leave the post office. Does this condition continue to exist due to government budget cuts?

Wilford R. Joe
Shiprock, N.M.

Bluff Road still not graded

With regard to Bluff Road (NR 542) in Shiprock, my concern continues. For the past several months this road has not been graded, making the road even rougher. Meanwhile, the third lane, a tributary of the Bluff Road was fixed.

The San Juan County Road Department crew graded the road, packed the road smooth with a compactor, and treated the road with oil to keep down the dust. Since it is a public road, residents of the area have been traveling on the better road.

Now, Bluff Road remains in the same condition it has been in for over a year. The rocks are sticking up even more and there is a washboard effect making travel almost impossible. My question is, where is the BIA Road Department?

At the last meeting about Bluff Road, the road department indicated they would be maintaining the road until the main road project was started.

We teach our children about making a stand about fair and just treatment. We as adults need to set the example of treating one another fairly. The road project needs to begin as scheduled in June and complete the whole Bluff Road repair.

My stand is to speak out about getting Bluff Road fixed permanently and not temporarily with broken promises by individuals who influence decisions.

Wilford R. Joe
Shiprock, N.M.

How sovereign do we plan to be?

Whether I’m speaking to my Anishinaabe relatives on the Leech Lake Reservation in Minnesota or to you on this vast Navajo Nation, all of us are subjects to the same self-proclaimed warden: The United States. My question is: How sovereign do we plan to be?
Even if you don’t work for the federal or tribal government, surely you’ve heard the words “jurisdiction” or “red tape.” And more often than not, you probably heard it in a negative connotation. That’s because these concepts are constantly used against our people.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs will claim ownership of rights-of-way. Energy companies –both on and off the reservation –seek ways to seize land through eminent domain, legal loopholes, or dishonest bargaining.

And tribal citizens have to jump through a plethora of hoops just to open a business, a process that takes longer than obtaining an engineering degree from Arizona State University.

Energy development in Indian Country is no exception.

The Navajo leadership took a stand with Standing Rock last year, despite of the Four Corner’s poor track record for stopping the exploitation of oil, coal, and uranium resources. And it’s a tricky place to be. On such a large nation with a tragically high rate of unemployment, it takes a lot of commitment to turn down even the most meager of energy contracts for an undeveloped dream of a just, green economy.

In fact, when Trump announced this past week that he would not be supporting the Paris agreement and would instead move towards the four-year-long process of withdrawing, I couldn’t help but laugh a little for the administration was actually keeping its promise to all of the coal miners who had voted Trump into office. (When has the government ever kept promises?)

Yet Appalachia, where many of these coal miners are, is also an impoverished collective of Americans who often have a shared history of how they came to be in the mines. Streams run orange with acid mine drainage, the education systems are rated among the worst in the country, and rarely does a presidential candidate seem invested in the people there.

So, just as some Navajo politicians talk about the need for jobs, I could imagine many Appalachians feel equally backed into the corner with the threat of things like the Paris zgreement –something that is foreseen to run the coal industry out of business

However, coal, oil … none of these products are the solution, not to our energy demands, and not to our local economies.

Instead, places like Appalachia and Indian Country need presidential candidates who can affirm the necessity of such promises as the Paris agreement while also promising those who work in the mines that a green economy will receive them as well –and with far less health risks.
Appalachia may not be waking up to the reality that they have an alternative to an extractive economy, but the Navajo Nation has that opportunity to genuinely take care of its people.

The Navajo Nation’s modern government was birthed by the federal government in order to sign over oil leases to corporations less than a century ago. It also won the largest lawsuit any tribe has ever won for the BIA’s failure to honestly and transparently maintains its bookkeeping responsibilities for decades worth of Navajo energy transactions.

And the health consequences? Just watch the documentary “Broken Rainbow.” It’s any wonder the Navajo Nation hasn’t furiously severed all ties with each atrocity that has surfaced.

The problem is federal entities still have such a stranglehold over Indian resources, especially energy ones. Leases that may take a matter of days off a reservation will take up to seven years on tribal lands.

Even if tribes wanted to develop their resources, the layers of red tape scare away business. In addition, the BIA must negotiate, approve, and oversee all leases –meaning exorbitant amounts of funds are used on bookkeeping and oversight.

Meanwhile, tribes see very little of the revenue –and little to no accountability for the reclamation afterwards.

Should our tribal leaders take a stance in controlling this process in a manner that more closely resembles that of a sovereign nation’s power, tribes like the Navajo Nation might finally see some energy justice.

That also means our leaders could choose to protect the people regardless of Trump’s decision to pull out of international agreements about climate.

In addition to dedicating themselves to a just, green transition for the Navajo people and energy employees, Navajo leaders could be putting together their own climate plan. This plan could hold outside corporations accountable according to Indian law –not lax federal law –and force outsiders to respect tribal sovereignty.

By doing so, we would also see our precious cultural resources protected –from the snowy mountain caps to the medicinal plants that are all threatened by such things as rising temperatures and vanishing precipitation.

So, respectable members of the Council and the OPVP, how will you be responding to the needs for leadership committed to a climate plan and a just energy transition for the Navajo people?

Kayla DeVault
Tse Bonito, N.M.


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Categories: Letters