Letter: Navajo, Hopi should work together for water rights

To the editor,

The proposed Northern Arizona Water Settlement recently presented to Hopi Tribal Council by the Hopi Water and Energy Team is not a cause for celebration. It attempts to divide waters in the Little Colorado River and the big Colorado River among 33 non-Indian parties and the Hopi and Navajo Nations.

Once again, powerful corporations like Central Arizona Project, (CAP) Salt River Project (SRP), Arizona Public Service Co. (APS) and Peabody Coal Co. are having their way. They have managed to minimize Hopi and Navajo water rights in the context of municipal water settlement and not in the spirit of the Winter's Doctrine. The settlement dictates how waters will be used.

While corporations and non-Indian ranchers and farmers have their way, the Hopi and Navajo are left with water projects without any guaranteed funding. The non-Indians could care less as long as they secure their water rights.

To fund the promised projects, both Nations would have to lobby Congress for money and this could take many years. It is possible the projects may never be built, and even if they are built, the maintenance and operation will undoubtedly be costly.

It is clear who is driving the settlement; it is not the Navajo and Hopi, but CAP Board of Directors who do not want water flow to Phoenix and Tucson disrupted. These cities depend on CAP to deliver water at low cost using electricity generated by the Navajo Generating Station (subsidized by the Hopi, Navajo and the Bureau of Reclamation) for growth and prosperity. Without a guaranteed supply of water, Phoenix will cease to grow and investors will hesitate to come. CAP water is the lifeblood of southern Arizona cities and it is worth hundreds of billions of dollars and therefore worth protecting at all costs.

A disturbing and unethical factor is the behavior of certain lawyers who represented Hopi and Navajo. A pattern is emerging showing that they did not work in our best interest. Why else are they agreeing to waive corporate liabilities resulting from unfair and possible illegal practices? Specifically, why would lawyers waive liabilities for damages done to our land, waters and cultural resources on Black Mesa by Peabody and the Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation? Why did they allow NGS and Peabody to become part of the settlement? Why else did they leave the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo out of the picture? Why was the Treaty of Guadalupe not used as leverage?

The proposed water settlement is so significant and unfair that we, Hopi and Navajo people, should insist on a one-year moratorium so that the Hopi and Navajo lawyers can study the complex document and explain it to the grassroots people in a language they can understand. The Hopi people - who were never given a copy of the settlement - have no idea about what they are giving up in return for what they are getting.

Some of the Hopi Tribal Council members I spoke with agree that time is needed to digest the settlement and present it to all of the Hopi villages. My guess is that the Hopi people will reject the settlement once they learn that the settlement could give Peabody a permanent waiver for damages and that it could jeopardize Hopi private property rights protected under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

The Little Colorado River Settlement adjudication and the secret settlement negotiations have been going on for at least 25 years, costing millions of dollars, without advice and consent from the members of the Hopi Tribe. The Hopi Water and Energy Team and their attorney said this is the best settlement possible given the complex nature of negotiations.

It is critical that Hopi and Navajo people get together and work together to gain control of our natural resources. By working together we can become a powerful force. We can no longer be bystanders and subsidizers to the state of Arizona.

With conservative Republicans dominating Arizona politics, the state of Arizona, CAP, SRP and other rich corporations will attempt to force the settlement down our throats. We must be prepared to defend our rights.

Vernon Masayesva

Kykotsmovi, Ariz.

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