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Bits’íís Nineez tests 99-year-old matriarch’s resilience: Pearl Begay: Bilagáana believe water belongs to them

Bits’íís Nineez tests 99-year-old matriarch’s resilience: Pearl Begay: Bilagáana believe water belongs to them

By Donovan Quintero
Special to the Times

ŁICHÍI’II, Ariz. — Pearl Begay isn’t holding her breath.

Bits’íís Nineez tests 99-year-old matriarch’s resilience: Pearl Begay: Bilagáana believe water belongs to them

Special to the Times | Donovan Quintero
A PVC pipe, covered with a metal lid, sticks out of the ground where Pearl Begay fills her cistern tank with water she hauls from Kaibeto, Ariz.

Because after the water rights settlement goes through the signing process, ultimately being signed by President Joe Biden, the real challenge begins to fulfill the “historic” settlement the Navajo government said was a longtime coming.

For one thing, Begay said the non-Navajos believe all the water belongs to them. So, she wonders how much of the water will come to Navajo. Second, an infrastructure that will carry the water to the Navajo Nation is not even in place. So, it’s not guaranteed when, if at all, she’ll be drinking treated Colorado River – Bits’íís Nineez – water from her faucet. Third, will she experience more broken promises?

Bits’íís Nineez tests 99-year-old matriarch’s resilience: Pearl Begay: Bilagáana believe water belongs to them

Special to the Times | Donovan Quintero
A sparrow glides next to a sandstone cliff in Antelope Canyon near Lake Powell in the Colorado River.

When the Navajo Generating Station was being discussed, which she calls béésh bii’ kǫ’í tsoh, she remembers being promised electricity. She never got it.

In a sit-down interview with the Navajo Times, the 99-year-old Navajo matriarch delved into her poignant recollections of growing up in Łichíi’ii, near the picturesque shores of Lake Powell that is surrounded by a breathtaking scenery of seemingly endless beauty.

Tsébighánlini dóó Tsébii’hazdeestas

The areas Begay remembers herding sheep, which go into parts of the canyon that now has become part of Lake Powell, the second largest manmade reservoir in the U.S., no longer exist because it is now covered by water and no longer is considered belonging to the Navajo people.

At full capacity, Lake Powell can hold 8.8 trillion gallons of water, but none of that water has yet to be piped to the Łichíi’ii community, or to any other Navajo community, despite being told countless times throughout her life that the water also belongs to Navajo.

Bits’íís Nineez tests 99-year-old matriarch’s resilience: Pearl Begay: Bilagáana believe water belongs to them

Special to the Times | Donovan Quintero
Sun rays shine through the emerald-green Colorado River in Antelope Canyon on June 1.

According to the water rights settlement agreement, 45 Navajo communities on the Arizona side of the reservation will forever be entitled to approximately 60 billion gallons of water annually, which is not even a full percent of water that Lake Powell holds.

Instead of contemplating and imagining a world with Colorado River water gushing through miles of pipelines zigzagging over plateaus, through homesite leases and grazing areas, Begay instead wanted to share her memories of the area she’s called home all her life, where she raised her eight children.

Begay is Tsi’naajinii and born for Tábąąhá Naasht’ézhí. Her maternal grandfathers are Naakaii Dine’é, and her paternal grandfathers are Tł’ízíłání.

Read the full story in the June 13, edition of the Navajo Times.


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