Water settlement is good for nation

May 31, 2012

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I write this letter on behalf of myself, my father, and my family in support of the proposed Little Colorado River water rights settlement.

My family comes from Cedar Ridge in the Bodaway-Gap Chapter and our home has no electricity or running water. My father, Henry Lane, is a former Council delegate, who despite being 98 years old, still herds his sheep and cattle on his land overlooking the Grand Canyon.

In this portion of the Navajo Nation there is no surface water and stock ponds quickly dry up, even after summer thunderstorms. There is no groundwater available west of Highway 89, and water hauling is part of our daily life.

My father came to Window Rock on Nov. 4, 2010, to witness the Council's approval of the Northeast Arizona Indian Water Rights Settlement in November 2010.

That settlement of the Navajo Nation's Colorado River claims would have authorized the construction of the western Navajo pipeline, which would have brought much-needed water to the western portion of the Navajo Nation.

We were disappointed when we learned that Congress would not consider that settlement because the western Navajo pipeline was too expensive in the current economic and political climate. Despite this setback, we support the current LCR settlement, even though my family and my community will not receive the benefit of a water project.

My father, who built his herd of livestock, taught me the importance of patience and to approach every challenge in life by taking things one step at a time. The LCR settlement provides some important first steps toward our goal of building the western Navajo pipeline and delivering Colorado River water to the Western Navajo Nation.

The LCR settlement reserves water for a future Colorado River settlement and include funding to finish engineering studies for the western Navajo pipeline.

In addition, the settlement reduces the cost of a future western Navajo pipeline by building the Hopi groundwater pipeline, which could later be used to convey Colorado River water from Tuba City to the Hopi villages.

There is no question that we would prefer a settlement that included the western Navajo pipeline, but we have asked ourselves whether we are better off with the settlement or with no settlement.

The settlement provides important first steps, while the alternative of no settlement is a step backward to the litigation against those who seek to minimize the Navajo Nation's water rights - and who don't care whether the people of western Navajo continue to haul water. Let us take this first step toward securing water for all Navajo people.

My family and I support the Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Settlement. We came to this conclusion after educating ourselves about the terms of the settlement agreement. I think if you search your heart, you too will realize that the settlement is good for the Navajo Nation.

Lillie Lane
Window Rock, Ariz.

An insult to our treaties, ancestors

In the early 1980s I served on the original Navajo Water Commission, not the current giveaway one. I therefore have perspectives on what's gone wrong with our rights over time.

I wrote most of this on Treaty Day for Navajo groups resisting S. 2109 (Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Settlement Agreement act). It's the Little Colorado River basin "water rights" bill by Senator Kyl and lawyer Stan Pollack. Many angry Navajos asked me to send this to the Navajo Times.

Pollack and the current commission, with President Ben Shelly's blessing, committed another recent insult to our treaties and ancestors. They had one more full-page advertisement for S. 2109 in last week's Times. They've spent maybe $30,000-plus of our money on ads against our interests. They're spending as much as the Council's gold rings cost.

The ad says, "Remember that the settlement is an act of sovereignty."

S. 2109 waives significant sovereignty. Our Human Rights Commission passed a resolution against S. 2109 saying it violates our rights of "free, prior, and informed consent."

Pollack, Shelly, the commission, and certain delegates still support these rights violations. Unbelievably, they're doing it again with a Utah water settlement they kept secret.

In the latest ad they dishonestly tried to make S. 2109 treaty-related. There's no mention in S. 2109 of our treaties of 1849 and 1868. The only treaty honored is the Mexican-U.S. treaty of 1944. All S. 2109 supporters are enemies of our treaties and us.

The ad also says the settlement is "securing" our water rights. What an outrageous untruth. The settlement, in just one instance, gives away almost 41,000 acre-feet of prior agricultural rights on the LCR. These rights had a seniority date going back as far as 1900. The older a seniority date is, the closer to the front of the water rights line we get.

Having senior rights is like being first in a very long line at the movies. S. 2109 will waive those senior rights and put us at the very end of the LCR water rights line behind non-Indians. These rights are given away for free. It's a loss of about $160 million worth of senior rights.

Then the settlement does not mention the 20,000-acre Leupp-Bird Springs Farm the BIA proposed for our water rights on the LCR in 1982. Pollack concealed this from the Council, and also hid the 105,000 acre-feet of rights associated with the farm. S. 2109 waives these forever.

The 105,000 acre-feet of real treaty-based Winters rights given away here is about $420 million worth. Pollack and his group are against us and agriculture too.

The Kyl-Pollack goal is to forever minimize our rights, despite what Chris Deschene disgracefully wrote in his letter to the Times last week saying S. 2109 is "maximizing" our rights. That falsely used term indicated Deschene's close involvement with Pollack.

The Human Rights Commission announcement on rights violations the next day pretty much undermined Deschene. His S. 2109 praise fits right in with Shelly and the others, who are letting Kyl, Pollack, and the state treat us as subhuman.

The waivers-giveaways I already mentioned don't include the billion dollars' worth of Blue Springs water rights that flow downriver for free use by non-Navajos, or the $1 billion worth of our water Navajo Generating Station used for free for 30 years, nor NGS's non-payment of Navajo taxes, or the additional $1 billion worth of our water NGS will use in the future under S. 2109.

I'm disgusted also about other lost values in agriculture, watershed rehabilitation, and related economic opportunities, plus injuries to water quality and the extortion and fraud used by Kyl, Pollack, and their gang.

The ad says S. 2109 is for our economic growth and security. The reality is it's economic disaster. It destroys our greatest investment potential for economic development by waiving rights and related values and revenue opportunities, and serves NGS, Arizona, and Peabody.

Pollack says, "We're not giving anything away." That's his biggest biyochiid (lie). He also says, "We're not waiving rights, we're waiving claims."

At least in the ad some truth squeaks out. The waivers in S. 2109, as reported in the ad, are "for past, present, and future claims for water rights." These waivers are clearly the "giving away" of rights.

Ganado Mucho and Barboncito are pictured in the ad. What a sacrilege and travesty. If they were here today they would stand against Pollack, like they did against enemies who were sending us to Oklahoma. They would also stand against Navajo traitors, like they did at Hweeldi against those who sold us out to the Army for trinkets.

S. 2109 sells us out for what, over the long haul, will be a few groundwater project trinkets. The projects for the several communities are already trust responsibilities of the Indian Health Service. Approving S. 2109 waives these IHS responsibilities.

S. 2109 is an idea we must reject. What a bad idea it is to keep Pollack, Shelly, and other treaty traitors around. Pollack must be fired, Shelly recalled, and the other sell-outs removed.

It's the "right" thing to do.

Byron Huskon
Window Rock, Ariz.

Non-lawyers are misinformed

As Navajo people pause to reflect on the nation's progress in the 144 years that have passed since the signing of the treaty in 1868, my thoughts turn to another important decision facing the nation.

The Navajo Nation is currently considering whether to approve a settlement of the Navajo Nation's water rights claims in the Little Colorado River adjudication.

Unfortunately, non-lawyers who are misinformed about the settlement are flooding the media with inaccurate and misleading statements. As the nation's chief legal officer, I feel it is my obligation to set the record straight.

The question facing the nation is this: Should the nation continue to litigate its claims in state court where a decision will be many more years in coming and the only result can be limits on Navajo uses; or should the nation settle its claims now, protect the waters of the LCR that are rightfully ours from being taken and developed by outsiders, and start putting water to use with water delivery projects funded in the settlement?

First, let's review the litigation option. In 1979, the state of Arizona initiated this adjudication, a massive lawsuit filed in state court in St. Johns, Ariz., that joins over 3,000 parties that claim rights to use water from the Little Colorado River, its tributaries and the groundwater within that basin.

Previously, the Navajo Nation filed a similar action in federal court and fought the state of Arizona all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to keep the litigation of the nation's water rights out of state court.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Navajo Nation could be forced to participate in the state court adjudication because when Congress waived the sovereign immunity of the U.S. in 1952 through the McCarran Amendment it also waived the immunity of tribes.

The efforts to quantify the nation's water rights have been an exercise in sovereignty. Over the last 33 years, the Navajo Nation has simultaneously pursued its water rights claims in the state court litigation and worked to negotiate a settlement of that litigation and those claims. The settlement agreement is the result of years of hard-fought negotiations.

To those who say the LCR adjudication court will recognize only the nation's "minimal needs" for the future, I ask, then why reject the settlement in favor of litigation in state court? The settlement maximizes the nation's water rights claims.

The water rights recognized in the settlement are based on all legal theories the Navajo Nation has asserted in court, including aboriginal rights, and federal reserved rights (also known as Winters rights), which include historic uses. The settlement agreement is written to maximize the Navajo Nation water rights by providing for unlimited use of most of the water resources in the LCR basin.

To those people who argue that Navajo water rights can be protected only by quantifying them, I say "quantification" is just another word for limit. Again, why reject the settlement in favor of litigation in state court where the only possible outcome is limits on Navajo Nation uses?

Finally, to be clear, this settlement deals only with the Little Colorado River basin. Having secured water rights in the settlement agreement to meet the nation's current and future needs in that basin, as is the case with all litigation settlements, the nation must waive any additional claims to water it might have in the LCR adjudication.

The waivers of claims in the settlement agreement only apply to the nation's LCR claims - Navajo Nation claims to the main stem of the Colorado River in both the upper and lower basin are preserved for another day.

I support the Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights settlement because it maximizes the nation's water rights. In addition, the settlement provides for the construction of water delivery projects that will turn paper water rights into a clean, reliable drinking water supply to benefit Navajo families for generations to come. A state court decision, when it finally comes many years from now, will do neither of these things.

Harrison Tsosie
Attorney General
Navajo Nation
Window Rock, Ariz.

Kill Senate Bill 2109

As a voting member of the Cameron Chapter, I urge my people to do everything they can to press your council delegate and President Shelly to kill Senate Bill 2109.

People like to believe that there is an infinite fresh water supply on Mother Earth and our neighbors to the south use water as if it will never be exhausted, but the supposition is disastrously false.

The tragic news is that our civilization is depleting, diverting and contaminating the earth's fresh water supply more quickly than it can be replenished. Mankind is extracting groundwater at ever-increasing proportions to augment the deteriorating supply of surface water.

Our leadership must recognize that the earth's fresh water supply is finite - a very limited resource. It is apparent that President Shelly and the Navajo Nation Water Rights Commission and the Water Rights Unit of the Department of Justice do not understand that the world we live in is becoming a desert. The world is running out of clean, fresh water.

We have a global water crisis and President Shelly is on a fast track to passing horrific legislation waiving our reserved water rights. These hasty decisions will haunt them and their children for many generations to come, including every soul in the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe.

We are in a life and death situation. Please insist that your reserved water rights are not relinquished in any shape or form.

I attended several S.2109 public forums across the reservation and was very dismayed at what I observed. President Shelly's limited "token meetings" and the water rights commission's PowerPoint presentation were filled with propaganda and certainly did not provide an overall picture of the many aspects affecting our comprehensive water rights.

At the meeting, one individual inquired, "You have told us some of the positives of this bill, now tell us what the negatives are regarding this bill."

The questioner was never given any straight answers. There has been no genuine transparency from our elected and appointed officials or meaningful dialogue regarding S.2109. I did witness, however, hundreds of our people strongly opposing Senate Bill 2109 at each meeting.

A question many people are asking is, "When did the problem of providing water and electricity to central and southern Arizona, California, Nevada, Peabody Energy and the Navajo Generating Station become the integral responsibility of the Navajo and Hopi people?"

I believe these entities can find solutions to their water issues without encroaching on our Winters Doctrine and on our reserved water rights.

Our Winters rights hold seniority even if our tribes do not put the water to beneficial use, so this preposterous bill does not have to be hastily finalized. Since our Winters rights has senior priority dates, we can conclude that they are some of the most valuable rights in our water basins.

When you introduce an Indian water rights settlement act, you quantify the water. This bill certainly does not accomplish that purpose. In fact, in S.2109, our water attorneys carefully avoid that objective.

The outside entities mentioned above have been cheating the Navajo and Hopi people out of their natural resources for the last 150 years. With a U.S. federal deficit of more than $14 trillion, does President Shelly honestly believe that our U.S. government will provide any funding to Navajo and Hopi lands for water projects?

It is important to note that we are relinquishing our extremely valuable senior water rights for a mere promise for future water development to just a couple of our communities. We have over a hundred chapters.

Just today I was reading an article from the Congressional Budget Office and it was reported that the growing U.S. debt "would increase the likelihood of a sudden fiscal crisis ... and the government would lose its ability to borrow at affordable rates."

After reading 157 pages of S.2109, I have come to the conclusion that the only thing to do is kill the bill. The bill is written with little regard for the Navajo Nation's water-related needs, but gives maximum benefits and protections to non-Indian water users.

Stanley Pollack, Navajo Nation water attorney, and Senator Kyl are obviously placing a higher priority on corporate interests and off-reservation water users than on the Navajo and Hopi people.

S.2109 does not even attempt to protect our senior water rights. In fact, it is written so it limits our tribal water rights in almost every conceivable manner.

In my opinion, Pollack lacks principles and certainly is not a friend to the Navajo Nation. He needs to be swiftly removed. Pollack has deceived our tribal leadership long enough. Does John Boyden ring a bell?

The word "waiver" appears countless times. We are clearly better off without this proposed settlement. A partial list follows:

  • S. 2109 erodes our tribal sovereignty. Our tribal sovereignty creates protections against other governments to limit and regulate our natural resources.
  • S. 2109 is not an Indian water rights settlement act. It does not quantify the water rights of the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe to the Little Colorado River.
  • S. 2109 states "the purposes of this act" is so tribes will permanently give up all water rights to the Little Colorado River.
  • S. 2109 puts our lives in peril by denying our right to clean water and cutting off any opportunities for economic development for us, our children and future generations. S. 2109 even forbids us to market unused portions of our water.
  • S.2109 only promises a Navajo groundwater project, it is "subject to the availability of appropriations."

    Congress may never allocate funds for water delivery projects and they will not be held responsible. S.2109 states the U.S. "shall not be liable for the failure to carry out any obligation or activity for the failure to carry out any obligation or activity authorized under this Act."

  • S.2109 does not protect our water quality. It authorizes the Navajo Nation "to execute a waiver and release of any claims against the United States" and others, for all "past and present claims relating in any manner to damages, losses, or injuries to water, water rights, land, or other resources due to loss of water or water rights (including damages, losses, or injuries to hunting, fishing, gathering, or cultural rights due to loss of water or water rights, claims relating to interference with, diversion, or taking of water, or claims relating to failure to protect, acquire, or develop water, water rights, or water infrastructure) within the reservation and off-reservation trust land."

    If water is polluted than it is of no use to us. We cannot thrive on contaminated water.

  • S. 2109 coerces our tribes into renewal leases with Peabody and NGS through 2044.
  • S. 2109 provides the Navajo Generating Station, which is a corporate entity, a federal water right.

It may be reasonable to assert that those who control the water on our reservations essentially have control over Navajo and Hopi life. President Shelly and the Council need to tell Kyl, McCain and outside corporate interests: "No deal!"

The Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado Water Rights Settlement is detrimental to our way of life. Please call or write President Shelly and the Council and instruct them to kill the bill. Our Council delegates need to understand that they have to vote no on S. 2109 and not remain neutral.

As Desmond Tutu declared, "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor."

Sue Sutter
Vancouver, Wash.
(Hometown: Cameron, Ariz.)

Facing challenges among non-Indians

I would like to comment on the letter "English is not the only language in Page" (May 24, 2012) by Dorothy Redhorse, Tse Alnozi'I', N.M.

I understand the complexity of speaking English as the first language. Di'neh, this is our second language. Frankly, I agree with you.

This nation is diverse of many nations, and to have an individual delegate that an indigenous nation is not to speak their own traditional tongue? Unbelievable such a city as Page would allow this to happen.

If not for the Di'neh Code Talkers, and members who served in the military to protect the freedom of individuals - just shows you how backwards they really are.

I was born and partially reared from southern California. I was ward of state as a teen. Both my parents are not among the living. I relearned my heritage, culture, and tradition. I even took the liberty of learning another tribal language (Cherokee) as an undergraduate.

I earned my bachelor's degree in American Indian studies, and even went further to earn my master's degree. My graduate research thesis is in "The Study of the Navajo Heritage." I graduated last year.

I face the challenges among non-Indians here in South Carolina. Majority of the population do not understand the complexity, hardship, and tradition of Indian tribes. I have done many presentations and lectures in reeducating non-Indians who will listen.

Mrs. Redhorse, I briefly stated my concern. Although I am urban Di'neh it doesn't mean I have forgotten my people. Hopefully one day I would tell my story to the Di'neh Nation what it took for me to reach my goals. It was a tough hard road, and, to tell you the truth, I even served 14 years in the military, and served my people and this country.

After my military discharge I relocated to Farmington, this is where my father is laid to rest. He was born in Tee Nos Pos and has his side of the family working and residing in the general area.

I grew up in a diverse community and race in my neighborhood was not an issue. I went to elementary school starting in 6th grade in southern California, and my younger years went to boarding school in Kaibeto and Tuba City.

It was a difficult transformation living among the other Di'neh (males and females), homesick and far from home. It can be confusing trying to understand when board members make a decision such as this. There are times board members put themselves high above anyone, and when it comes to deciding the best for the school or school systems they seem to forget just how it really works, and look at the systems in their own prospective.

I started my higher education at San Juan College in Farmington and experienced a challenge in my math class. My math instructor said something regarding Di'neh, and I quickly corrected her statement. There are times situations need to be addressed. To this day I don't let anyone downgrade any tribal entity. Stand up to what you believe in, and keep fighting, and persuade others to hear what you have to say.

"Mistreatment at the Village Inn" (May 24, 2012) letter by Diana R. Yellow of Red Valley, Ariz. - I've been in this restaurant. I am sorry you went through this ordeal, and you are absolutely right that this had to be corrected.

Manager, staff, and crews should always comfort their customer's needs. My son owns his own restaurants and he ensures his customers are taken care of no matter what the situation might be.

There is one problem you might run into. This establishment might not be a part of a franchise or a chain. The manager might own this restaurant independently and answers to no one. You do have the right to make a complaint, and may want to contact the Better Business Bureau or the local media of the incident.

Being full-blood Di'neh is extremely tough when there is no other in the area. Nearest tribe (here) is the Eastern Band of Cherokees, and the Catawba Indians. I face the challenges of non-Indians both white and black. Other minorities are not recognized. For example, I had an Indian from India asking why this state is rude, mistreats, and downgrades them. I just tell them, they do the same to me. I will not let anyone bring me down, and I will definitely stand up to them.

So I say to each of you, stand up to what you believe in, and don't give up.

Virgil Ellison
Belton, S.C.

Why our nation is in turmoil

With respect and love to all of you, I pray that I may share some insight of why our nation within a nation is in such turmoil over issues with self, others and government.

All we do and say every day, whether it is in a positive or negative way, our Creator uses these to help us as we wander lost or follow in faith on this journey through this world. We are all spiritual people, having a human experience.

Forgiveness is something we have forgotten or left behind as we were in a hurry to be Navajos. Being a Navajo is a mask we wear. Diné is who we are.

When I read the Navajo Times, all the conflict going on with our "sovereign" nation, this brings an understanding of how lost we have become from our spiritual selves. Traditional values (Diné) based on principles have been replaced with Euro-American values (Navajo) based on selfish guidelines.

The previous and current U.S. national leader and our tribal leader display these selfish qualities of their personal behavior.

Behaviors can be changed/re-learned. For everyone has a bit of goodness in them. Cooperation, restitution, group emphasis, patience, modesty/humility, all positive values can and should be part of everyone's life.

Replacing competition, punishment, individual emphasis, impatience, and self-importance. Until then it will remain the same.

Tommy Gunn Tache
Hobbs, N.M.

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