Letter: Tribal leaders respond to Kyl's letter

To the editor:

We take this opportunity to respond to Arizona Senator Jon Kyl's April 4, 2012, letter to the editor of the Arizona Daily Sun concerning Senate Bill 2109, the "Navajo and Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Act of 2012," wherein he suggests that those who oppose this settlement are providing false information and leveling untrue attacks against the settlement.

The fact of the matter is that S.2109 is not an Indian water rights settlement act. It does nothing to quantify the water rights of the Navajo and Hopi tribal nations to the Little Colorado River and is in direct contravention of the Winters Doctrine. Rather, it is a backhanded approach to providing federal benefits and protections to entities that exploited the natural resources of our tribes for their own economic gain. It ensures that non-Indian corporate interests continue mining our coal and pumping our Navajo Aquifer to produce cheap electricity and deliver wet water to benefit southern Arizona, southern California and southern Nevada, under the guise of an Indian water rights settlement.

It requires the tribes to give Peabody Western Coal Company (Peabody) and the Salt River Project (SRP) and other owners of the Navajo Generating Station (NGS) tens of thousands of acre-feet of tribal water annually, without compensation. In other words, it gives NGS, a corporate entity, a federal water right. It also requires the tribes to extend the Peabody and NGS leases to 2044 without regard for past and continuing harmful impacts to our health, water supplies, water quality and damage to our precious Navajo Aquifer, as a necessary pre-condition to receiving minimal domestic water pipelines.

S.2109 requires the tribes to waive all protections against injury to water quality "from time immemorial and thereafter, forever." It also requires the tribes to permanently waive all water rights to the Little Colorado River "from time immemorial and, thereafter, forever that are based on aboriginal occupancy of land by the (tribes) and Members of the (tribes) or their predecessors." The settlement Sen. Kyl is pushing is not "consistent with previous water settlements in New Mexico, Montana and Arizona," as he claims.

We do agree "it is time to set the record straight." S.2109 is not a water rights settlement act. It is a license to continue the exploitation of our precious natural resources while threatening our tribal sovereignty. S.2109 is very dangerous for the Navajo and Hopi tribal nations and is not acceptable to members of our respective tribes.

Water is life. Water is sacred; it is central to our way of life, to our ceremonies and traditions.

We must protect and preserve it for our future generations.

With all due respect,

Vernon Masayesva, Former Chairman - Hopi Tribe

Ivan Sidney, Former Chairman - Hopi Tribe

Benjamin Nuvamsa, Former Chairman - Hopi Tribe

Milton Bluehouse, Former President - Navajo Nation

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