TUBA CITY, Ariz. - Tensions ran high and emotions were rattled April 5 at the Water Rights Protest, as community members, leaders, elders, young and old came together in unity.
Republican Senators Jon Kyl and John McCain received an unwelcome protest as they arrived for a 9 a.m. meeting in Tuba City. The meeting between the two Senators and Tribal leaders was closed to the public. Few Council delegates were present for the meeting.
The protest was meant to address concerns over a new legislation introduced by Kyl on Feb. 14 of this year. The legislation will seek to settle the Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights of the two tribes.
Elders present wanted their presence known as the Senators entourage arrived at the meeting place. Elders from The Forgotten People held signs that read, "Water is sacred" and "No Deal" and "No to S 2109"
Debbie Yazzie held on tightly to her sign as she stated, "I'm here for my grandchildren, this is their future, I'm going to continue to fight for what is theirs." The morning chill came with a slight breeze but the Elders did not budge. They sat on the walls and stood on the sidewalks holding onto their homemade signs.
Medicine man Norris Nez and his wife made the one-mile march from the Tuba City Chapter House. "My parents, grandparents, and their parents did not want this for us; they fought for the water, land, and resources. They passed on not having running water, electricity, and the everyday comforts we take for granted. We were taught to have respect for all living things" he said. His wife agreed by nodding her head quietly. "We need to let them know we will not stand for any lies," stated Mrs. Nez.
The number of protesters grew to over 200 as the meeting continued behind closed doors, in a section of the local Hogan restaurant. Navajo Police held back crowds hoping to enter the restaurant to get a chance to participate. Outside others continued chanting, "Protect our Rights!" and "Why are we not allowed to have an input?"
According to Sierra Club's website, "The Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Act of 2012 aims to settle claims and legal challenges by the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe to water allotments from the Little Colorado River and Gila River. While Title I of the Act aims to accomplish this objective by funding water projects in exchange for waiver of claims, Title II seeks to ensure continued operation of the Navajo Generating Station in exchange for the allocation of water rights to the Navajo Nation."
"We have been fed lies that were covered up by more lies, I believe this is just another one" commented Mary Begay, an Elder from Grey Mountain. Begay hauls water 30 miles each way on a daily basis for personal use and to water her livestock.
"We are hostages of Peabody Coal Company and the Salt River Project (SRP), and the Navajo Generating Station" commented a member of the Big Mountain Community. Further, "we do not need this settlement, in actuality, it is meant to benefit the big cities.
Hopi Tribal Elder and former chairman Vernon Masayesva entered the meeting to observe and participate. He was told to leave, because he was not Navajo. When he resisted, he was taken down by Navajo Nation Police. Observers witnessed him as being visibly shaken and upset at the ordeal. It was not clear if he was hurt or had any injuries.
As the meeting came to a close, a large group gathered to meet the Senators and Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly and Vice President Rex Jim. Protesters continued chanting, "No water for yellow snow!" and "You will not take away our water rights!"
As the Senators made their way to the waiting SUVs, they were treated to chants of "No water for your swimming pools!" Navajo Nation Police had to enforce crowd control and held people back as some waved signs in front of Senators McCain and Kyl. Some even pressed their signs onto the windows of the mobile units as they drove away.
Earlier in the day it was announced that there would be a press conference held following the event. The Navajo Nation President, vice president and their staff were the only ones present. There were no representatives from the Senators office, nor was there any feedback provided in regards to the meeting.
When time came for President Shelly to speak, the crowd became loud and angry. Some expressed, "No closed door deals!" and "You sold us out!" The President became very upset at the remarks and told the large crowd not to listen to or believe whatever is said. At one point, he threatened to leave the premises if the crowd did not calm down and listen to his remarks. Some in the crowd shouted, "Go ahead!" He offered no feedback as far as the meeting between the parties. He did however state, "There will be no agreement, unless the people agree"
Members from the Navajo Nation Speakers office encouraged all to be involved, and participate in upcoming forums. There are a total of seven meetings planned Reservation-wide to hear comments and concerns from the Navajo and Hopi people.