Letter: Hopi 'leaders,' not environmentalists, are threatening tribal sovereignty

To the editor:

I appreciate the opportunity to comment on the latest, unfortunate and embarrassing action of the "illegal" council of the Hopi Tribe. I say "illegal" because that is exactly what this group is. Since Jan. 1, there [has been] no Tribal Chairman and ... no Tribal Vice Chairman - so there is no tribal council. Simple as that! So the resolution this illegal group passed is not worth the paper it's written on.

On the Hopi Reservation, only the Tribal Chairman has the authority to sign an exclusion order under Tribal Ordinance 46. So without a Chairman, no one can sign such an order. Without meeting these requirements, the resolution passed by this group is nothing more than a mean-spirited statement.

Our teachings as Hopi and Tewa people dictate that we should welcome everyone. It is not Hopi to exclude anyone. As Hopi and Tewa people, we are raised to be good stewards of our lands so we are all "environmentalists" by our cultural teachings and practices.

The environmentalists have stood by the Hopi Tribe when we opposed the making of artificial snow on our sacred Nuvatukyaovi (San Francisco Peaks). They assisted in our opposition to the proposed uranium mining near the Grand Canyon. They assisted in securing protections for the American Bald Eagle. So why the opposition to environmentalists now? Could it be financial and corporate greed?

The Black Mesa Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and the Office of Surface Mining's (OSM) decision to grant the Peabody Coal Company a new Life of Mine (LOM) permit at the Black Mesa mine area is at the heart of this issue and is central to our current political turmoil. Our people fought hard over many years to stop the pumping of our pristine water from the N-aquifer to slurry coal from the Black Mesa Mine to the Mohave Generating Station. Today, our fears have been realized as our sacred springs have dried up affecting our age-old ceremonies, corn crops, water quality and the very fabric of who we are as Hopi and Tewa people. This cannot continue.

Today, as in the early 1960s when the exploitation of our coal began, we are without a legitimate tribal council. The tribe's general counsel, Scott Canty has pushed to have OSM issue a Record of Decision on the Black Mesa EIS to grant Peabody Coal a LOM permit. Canty's efforts have also led to this illegal tribal council in passing a resolution to approve a new coal lease "Reopener."

This illegal group has failed to listen to the wishes of the Hopi and Tewa people. In the 1960s, the Hopi Tribe's attorney, John Boyden, championed a way to have the Bureau of Indian Affairs approve the coal lease with the Peabody Coal Company on behalf of the Hopi Tribe. The Hopi Tribe later learned that Boyden was also representing the Peabody Coal Company at the same time, but it was too late. At that time, as it is today, a handpicked tribal council was formed to "ratify" the coal lease with Peabody. This is history repeating itself.

Some say the environmentalists are compromising our tribal sovereignty. I disagree. It is our own tribal "leaders" that are the worst violators of compromising our sovereignty. In fact, one of our own once testified in support of former Senator Slade Gorton's initiative to take away the sovereign immunity protection of Indian tribes. Tribal sovereignty is one of our most sacred rights as Indian tribes, but we must be extremely careful in how we exercise it, or we will lose it.

I am glad this issue finally received local and national attention. We can now take this opportunity to reveal the truth about the Peabody Coal Company and how our own people and our attorneys are involved in the exploitation of our precious natural resources. Let the truth be known. Let the truth be exposed.

Benjamin H. Nuvamsa

Former Hopi Tribal Chairman

Second Mesa, Ariz.

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