Letter: Water rights hearings discriminatory

To the editor,

It is with much regret that I find myself reporting on the ill manner in which the Northeastern Arizona Indian Water Rights Settlement Agreement representatives decided to run the community hearings at Nenahezaad, N.M. on Oct. 4.

I made plans to attend the hearing anticipating an open community discussion in which vital information would be presented to the Navajo people, and where I, as a community member would be able to give input. But, what I, and the Navajo public found were tables scattered throughout the chapter floor, in which we were to be herded to, and where we would be spoken to on an individual basis. In order to come together in a community hearing, we needed to be assembled in a group manner that would permit for open dialog, not in such a regimented and restricted way that was presented that night.

In my opinion there were many problems with such a public hearing meeting format. First, there was no accommodation for non-English speakers, and therefore the Navajo elders present were not given equal opportunity to be fully informed and involved in this so-called public hearing. Though not a thorough Navajo speaker myself, I did however, expect to have this hearing carried out in the Navajo language.

How did the Navajo Nation Water Rights Settlement representatives expect the Navajo elders to understand a rigid Powerpoint presentation? This report, complete with maps and tables of the Navajo Nation was set up at one table with recorded narration in English and very poor sound output. If this format was meant to "inform" the people, it was a miss. If a Navajo only speaker was to sit at this table, they would not be able to understand, which was the case, as I had an older woman approach me telling me that she was uncomfortable with the hearing format because she and her husband did not fully understand the jargon given in English. Personally, I looked at this as a blatant disrespect of the Navajo, non-English speakers present at this hearing.

Lawyer Stanley Pollack, hired over 20 years ago to represent the Navajo people, claimed that such a settlement becomes "more critical with time," and I say if the Navajo Nation has the best interest of their people, then why were we not educated on the information on the settlement within the seven years of work done between the Navajo Nation and affiliated entities? Instead the people were alerted at what seems like the last possible minute when the council was expected to vote "yes" and give up our water rights?

I thoroughly agree with Duane "Chili" Yazzie (council delegate for Shiprock Chapter) in his statement that such format presented at Nenahezaad was not suitable and did not allow for statements by the citizens of the Navajo Nation. I direct this letter to the local council delegates in the San Juan Valley: Leonard Anthony, Lorenzo Bates and Mrs. Glojeen Todicheene who did not vote against tabling the current water issue.

Whether or not We the People of Navajoland are from the western area or not, we still count, we still have a say in what our government is doing, so please don't disregard us, our voices will and have been heard.

Venaya Yazzie

Huerfano, NM


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