Grassroots water rights advocates work to be heard

WINDOW ROCK,April 17, 2014

Text size: A A A




For a group of Navajo water rights advocates, "quality of life" includes respect, equality, health and consideration.

Yet, at this year's Water Resources Research Center annual conference held in Tucson, Ariz. on April 7, the phrase had a very different meaning for representatives of the cities that make up central and southern Arizona. These cities have long grown accustomed to abundant access to good water through the Central Arizona Project, a 336-mile canal that draws water from the Colorado River and transports it across central and southern Arizona.

I attended this conference with a group of Navajo grassroots people. We understand that respect for water is respect for life, yet water is blatantly disrespected and taken advantage of in cities such as Phoenix, Tucson, Scottsdale, and Fountain Hills.

Outside many buildings are outdoor spray mists that quickly evaporate in the desert heat. The town of Fountain Hills is known for its fountain that spews water 560 feet in the air, every hour for 15 minutes. An aerial view reveals the number of backyard swimming pools and large irrigation fields.

How is this infrastructure and lifestyle sustainable? How much longer can this go on, especially given increasingly drier climate predictions due to global warming?
There appears to be a general lack of awareness of the impact of unsustainable water imports on everyone else. Consideration for other people and communities is lacking. There were a few exceptions, some participants of the conference expressed concern and advocated for water conservation and sustainability. Yet there is a great deal that still needs to happen for true equality and for social and environmental justice.

For example, at the beginning of the conference and throughout, it was made clear by many speakers that water for revenue receives first priority. Industries like power plants are already guaranteed water use. There was no discussion on how these entities and other industries could lessen their water consumption.

The group of Navajo grassroots representatives had to be persistent in securing a slot for one Diné water rights activist, who was eventually included on a panel. She spoke about the water realities of her community on the western side of the Navajo Reservation. The communities of the Black Mesa area have long witnessed the drying up of natural springs that are the result of the massive draw-down of the Navajo aquifer from Peabody coal mining operations.

Navajo rights to the Colorado River are ignored, then Navajo land and groundwater are degraded to provide the cheap energy needed to pump that water over the mountains. Navajo livelihoods and health are compromised. None of CAP benefits the Navajo people.

One speaker described the extreme difference between living conditions in central and southern Arizona and on the Navajo Nation. He asked conference participants if a swimming pool in every backyard was necessary.

One Navajo Nation government representative spoke as well. This was Jason John, who is with the Department of Water Resources. Additionally, former Navajo Council delegate George Arthur, now member of the Colorado Water Users Association, presented.

While these individuals act as liaisons for Navajo and tribal interests, their presentations were lacking. Primarily their talk addressed barriers the Navajo people face in acquiring access to the Colorado River. No solutions or assertion of our water claims was presented. With such presentations, it was difficult to have confidence in their ability to be the best advocates for our people.

Confidence was already suffering after another Navajo government representative, DOJ attorney Stanley Pollack, gave a lecture hosted by the University of Arizona, titled "Little Colorado River: Failure of the Settlement and the Triumph of Social Media."

Pollack claimed that the most recent attempt to minimize Navajo water rights, SB 2109, failed because grassroots groups spread misconceptions through social media. The UA later hosted a panel of Navajo and Hopi water rights activists to present their perspective on SB 2109. Every step of the way our water warriors have had to persist in getting their voices included.

More than anything else, our grassroots reminded the privileged and elite that we are here and we will speak for ourselves. We will fight for our rights, our future, and we will most certainly resist continued exploitation and injustice against our lands, water and people.

Robyn Jackson
Wheatfields, Ariz.




Who is to blame for rampant crime on the rez?

On April 3, 2014, the Navajo Nation Division of Public Safety released crime statistics on the Navajo Nation for the year 2013.

There were 233,000 police incidents reported in the year 2013. There were 11,967 various crimes reported and 3,595 were solved, and 2,418 appeared not solved. What happened to the other 8,372 crimes dispositions?
There were 25,837 traffic violations. There were 6,383 DWI and 1,298 cleared. What happened to the 5,085 DWI dispositions?
These crimes that are constant issues on the reservation are:

  • Domestic violence - 4,666 reported and 797 solved. What happened to the other 3,869 dispositions?
  • Forcible rapes - 311 reported and 8 solved. What happened to the other 303 dispositions?
  • Child abuse -- 928 and 44 cleared. What happened to the other 884 dispositions?
  • Drug abuse -- 47 reported and 2 cleared. What happened to the other 45 dispositions?
  • Public drunkenness is 35,485.

These statistics show we're not safe on our public roads because of the drunk drivers. Spouses and partners are not safe because of domestic violence. Our sweet children and grandchildren are not safe because of child abuse. Women are not safe because of rapes. Drug dealers are operating freely in every community. Public drunkenness needs outreach and rehabilitation.

The big question is who is to blame for many years of rampant crimes on the reservation? The blame is not our dedicated police officers, police supervisors, criminal investigators, correction officers, police and court staff, judges, detention officers, prosecutors, public defenders, emergency technicians, and firefighters.

These people work under extreme manpower storage, overwhelming calls for services, insufficient budget, and insufficient detention centers.

The blame should be placed on past and current administration. They appoint unqualified and controlling public safety directors. It is about 20 years we do not have a permanent chief of police or chief of criminal investigation.

The other blame is the Bureau of Indian Affairs not delivering their treaty responsibilities. They give us insufficient funds and expect us to operate huge public safety programs.

Election is around the corner. Ask these politicians what they are going to do with these horrible statistics. Ask them about our abused children and women. Ask them about drunk drivers taking our loved one's lives and crashing into our vehicles.

Ask the president's candidates about the 20 years without a permanent chief of police and appointing unqualified public safety directors. These statistics have to do a lot with him.

Sammy Ahkeah
Shiprock, N.M.

Let Naize serve as speaker until he has due process

My name is Aaron Yazzie. I am the chapter president for Blue Gap-Tachee Chapter. I would like to say a few words on behalf of Mr. Johnny Naize, who represents our community.

Blue Gap-Tachee Chapter, along with other neighboring chapters -- Tselani-Cottonwood, Low Mountain and Nazlini -- have passed resolutions calling on the Navajo Nation Council to keep Naize as speaker until he has had due process of law in our Navajo courts.

We ask that he not be judged in the newspapers, that he is, after all, innocent until proven guilty, and that he be allowed to serve as speaker until his case is decided. On a personal level, I know Naize to be a very soft-spoken guy. His words are by no means tumultuous. He focuses his attention to his people and that is why he enjoys support among the people of our chapter.

Yet he quietly endures and absorbs any and all negative media attention, declining to defend himself in a public way. He stands facing the dust storm, ready to meet the grit and sting of every challenge, and I see that as an asset in a leader. If any of us were subjected to the treatment he has received, most of us would reach our tolerance level and crawl under a rock.

I commend Johnny for his strength to stand up to those opposing him without resorting to name-calling and meanness. They have used unkind and untoward tactics to oust him, like citing Bible verses and humiliating him with ugly cartoons.

Some who accuse him of wrongdoing have been accused of wrongdoing themselves. Yet we respect their right to have their day in court, too, and refrain from attacking them in similar, derogatory ways. Our people plead that Council delegates and the media stop dragging Mr. Naize through this ordeal. He is human and has feelings, just as you and me. Above all, he is our relative.

Our young people read the papers and watch all the conflict among our leaders and they must think that we Diné have no more civility toward one another than those who serve on opposite sides of the aisle in Wááshindoon. Our conflicts as adults erode their belief in K'e because they see their elders and leaders constantly arguing and make accusations rather than sitting and calmly discussing their differences in respect for our traditional, peacemaking way.

You may remember our grandparents would say, "beeso hanii k'e ni'di do nii?," or money will not embrace you or love you. We hope that the Council delegates who oppose Mr. Naize are not motivated by money or to be re-elected but are motivated only to learn the truth and to obtain fair and equitable justice.

Johnny Naize may not be perfect, but he deserves his day in court. I ask our leaders to set aside their anger and let our Diné courts do their job. And I wish my brother Johnny Naize the best of luck.

Aaron Yazzie
Blue Gap, Ariz.

Actions taken by Naize are abhorrent

The actions taken by Johnny Naize are abhorrent but they are also nothing but a culmination of the abuse of power he has enjoyed during his time as speaker. He has shown no reserve when it comes to using our police department against his own people when they take a stand to disagree with his politics.

During the discussion on the waiver of BHP liabilities and Navajo Nation sovereign immunity he had eight police cars, 10 policemen, and two undercover agents (I have pictures) to intimidate those who disagreed with his position.

He often solicits his "spiritual advisor" Darryl Tso and his Chief of Staff Jarvis Williams, both bought and paid for by Navajo Nation funds, to carry out these intimidation tactics.

I have personally shared a strong dislike for Mr. Naize when, at a public celebration I asked him a simple question about whether or not he and others would answer pressing questions from the public in a forum to build more transparency in government. It was only a 40-second question, posed after I already gave Naize 40 minutes to eat and without pausing once to acknowledge me, he called for security to escort me away because "I was interrupting their eating."

That's when Jarvis Williams and Darryl Tso, two men with no more integrity than this disgraceful leader, took it upon themselves to chastise me for being disrespectful and for interrupting my elders (men) while they were eating.

In my conversation with them they told me I could not speak directly with the speaker, I had to speak to them. I objected because neither of them are elected representatives of the Diné people. The conversation I had with them is what led to the first Diné Minds Public Forum, which the speaker and his staff tried to obstruct, and then finally, refused to take part in because they felt themselves unaccountable to the people.

These actions were encouraged by the president's own top advisor, Deswood Tome, who told reporters that our call for an open, transparent discussion with the leaders we elected was a ploy by "anti-government" activists.

I am still thankful to the honorable delegates who did show up, all of whom were unafraid to talk directly to their citizens. These same delegates found themselves named in Naize's ridiculous request for a restraining order.

This gross abuse of a law, meant foremost to protect our women and children from violence, is sadly not the first. Caleb Roanhorse, of the Government Development Commission, has also used this tactic to protect his position. Enough is enough!
We have real violence being waged on our lands and we are constantly told that our limited police department is why so many of us cannot find justice. It doesn't help when, instead of protecting the people they spend hours at or near the chambers protecting the egos of corrupt leaders.

We can no longer entertain Naize in his desperate attempts to maintain control. The accusations of "promoting disharmony" that he makes against our honorable delegates is an accusation against the communities they represent when all we are trying to do is have our elected leaders restore some semblance of integrity by removing a politician that has consistently refused to hold himself accountable to the people.

Naize is by no means the only one nor is he the last, which is why he finds allies in those who also have questionable integrity, but we must not give up hope that justice will prevail.

Janene Yazzie
Lupton, Ariz.

Gallup commences another anti-Navajo attack

This April the border town of Gallup will commence yet another anti-Indian/anti-Navajo attack with its support of a campaign called "Change In My Heart, Not In My Pocket."

The campaign, set for 90 days, calls for residents and, I suppose, Navajo consumers coming into Gallup, to refrain from giving money to panhandlers. The panhandlers are predominantly Navajos who are alcoholics and can be seen walking the streets of Gallup and congregating in business parking lots.

In Gallup, Navajos on the street are able to procure liquor from a slew of bars and liquor stores, for the city has way more liquor licenses than a city of its size should have.

A long-time problem of Gallup has been its transient Navajo population, which led to its label "Drunk town USA," and now the city has decided to escalate the aggression against the most vulnerable population of Navajos, impoverished, alcoholic, and often no place else to go, by increased police enforcement, using local veterans to provide security to shoppers, pressing loitering and trespass laws, and extending extra hospitality and courtesy to tourists.

The irony of the campaign of escalated aggression against Navajos is to promote Gallup as a fun adventure place where tourists can gaze at dancing Indians from a safe distance, eat ethnic foods in the safety of the restaurants, and buy from Indians/Navajo who mostly sell their crafts at prices that do not provide a living wage or make them in sweatshop conditions in Gallup.

"Change in My Heart, Not In My Pocket" swathes itself in the language and actions of Christian love and compassion, but it is actually yet another example in Gallup's long history of hate against Navajos.

If Navajos think that the Navajos on the street are not "them" and that Gallup should continue to blame Navajos for its inability to curb its proclivity to continually exploit Navajos to feed itself, consider that a Navajo relative just relayed to me a story of going into downtown Gallup with her son who was wearing a sweatshirt with a hood. He was stopped by the community police and asked, "Are you drunk?"
Gallup's campaign targets all Navajos, Natives, and brown people who do not look the part of "decent" folks and criminalizes us just for walking into their town where our dollars keep them alive.

Navajo citizens should be alarmed at the escalated violence against Navajos and voice their concerns. Gallup is not being a good neighbor and consistently blames Navajos for its own exploitative practices against us.

The campaign organizers are holding a community meeting today, April 17, at UNM-Gallup in the SSPC building, room 200.

Jennifer Denetdale
Tohatchi, N.M.

Looking for my Navajo grandfather

My name is David Montelongo. I am looking for my Navajo grandfather. I'm 17 years old, and I've been told that I have Navajo family. My mother was adopted as a baby, and I was adopted as a teenager. I want to find my family.

My grandmother was named Donna Preston. She lived in Rexford, Kan., a small town in the northwest corner of Kansas.

In October of 1968, my grandmother was 16 years old. She got pregnant by a man on the Navajo railroad crew who was staying in Rexford. This man (or boy) worked for the Rock Island Railroad. The Navajo track crew laid 15 miles of new rails near Rexford and Colby, Kan., during 1968 and 1969.

My grandmother died in 1981. She would be 61 years old if she were still living. My grandfather is probably in his 60s by now.

If you were on the Rock Island Railroad track crew in 1968, or you know someone who was on the crew, please contact me. Please help me find my Navajo grandfather.

You can email me at davidmontelongo@gmail.com, call me at 620-747-0290, or write me at 423 W. 9th, Newton, KS 67114.

David Montelongo
Newton, Kan.

Back to top ^