Saturday, July 20, 2024

Water rights settlement on Arizona side for Navajo Nation closer to becoming reality

Water rights settlement on Arizona side for Navajo Nation closer to becoming reality

By Donovan Quintero
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK — Navajo Nation officials who’ve been at the helm to finalize a deal that would secure the tribe’s water rights forever, say they won’t stop fighting until the settlement is ratified by the federal government.

Even as the Northeastern Arizona Indian Water Rights Settlement Act of 2024, which will ratify and fund the Northeastern Arizona Indian Water Rights Settlement Agreement, was being celebrated, Speaker Crystalyne Curley said the tribe was planning to launch another public campaign across the reservation.

Water rights settlement on Arizona side for Navajo Nation closer to becoming reality

Special to the Times | Donovan Quintero
Crystal clear water gushes into a trough that livestock and wildlife use in Greasewood Springs, Ariz., on June 28.

Since January, the Navajo Nation Water Rights Commission, with legal and technical assistance from the Navajo Nation Department of Justice and the Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources, provided 31 public presentations on the Navajo Nation’s Arizona water rights claims and related litigation and settlement efforts, hosted seven forums on radio and social media platforms, resulting in reaching and engaging with more than 33,000 Navajo people. Presentations were also provided to the Diné Hataałii Association, the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, Navajo Nation Enterprises, and agency councils.

Now that federal legislators have started the approval process in their end, Curley said it was time for the commission to start its campaign to inform the Navajo Nation public of the latest step in finalizing its water rights settlement.

“We directed the water rights team to start going back out to communities to provide the updates as it moves forward,” Curley said on Monday. “So, they’ll be starting this month again towards the end of the month. We’ll be starting our radio forums again, just to provide updates on where everything is at.”

Water rights settlement on Arizona side for Navajo Nation closer to becoming reality

Special to the Times | Donovan Quintero
An electronic display indicating how much water to dispense from a Navajo Tribal Utility Authority water station sits for customers in Kinlichee, Ariz., on Tuesday.

Despite the dozens of public campaigns and forums the tribal government has conducted, many Navajo tribal members said they were not aware of the settlement since they’ve been too busy hauling water for their homes, their livestock and their fields.

Water transport, ‘Radio Flyer’

Aaron Dokie from Kinłichíí stopped at the Kinlichee Chapter House on Tuesday morning, looking to fill his 125-gallon water tote, so that he could water his field and livestock.

Like thousands of Navajo people across the reservation, Dokie said he’s been hauling water all his life even after getting running water into his home 10 years ago.

“We have squash, we have to water the plants. We also have a little bit of livestock,” Dokie said, explaining his field was a 20-foot-by-40-foot field.

Water rights settlement on Arizona side for Navajo Nation closer to becoming reality

Special to the Times | Donovan Quintero
Aaron Dokie from Kinlichee was at the Kinlichee Chapter House to get water for his plants, said on Tuesday that the tribe could do many things with its water once it has settled its water rights.

Dokie said he’s been hauling water all his life, starting with his “Radio Flyer” wagon.

“It was a lot more harder because we had the pump wells and we haul it with wagons, those little radio flyers,” said Dokie. “We had to haul quite a ways. Yeah, it was hard work.”

He said with the settlement, if approved, the Navajo people could do many productive things with the water.

“We can do all kinds of stuff with it, especially with irrigating and planting,” Dokie said.

Navajo Nation Attorney General Ethel Branch also shared her childhood upbringing of not having running water, like Dokie’s.

“I come from a water hauling family. I grew up without water. I know what it’s like to share the same water with your entire household,” Branch said during a virtual press conference on Tuesday. “My mother still lives within my childhood home, and she continues to haul water. She’s 78 years old and she’s still out there with water barrels to bring water to her livestock…. I’m super excited to what this will mean for our people.”

Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren, who also grew up without running water, said no one in America should be denied access to water because of where they lived.

“This settlement ensures that the Navajo people will have their rightful access to water providing certainty for our homelands future and equal opportunity for health and prosperity,” he said during a virtual press conference.

Read the full story in the July 11, edition of the Navajo Times.


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