PHOENIX, Ariz. - While Hopi Chairman Leroy Shingoitewa and his Water and Energy Team were in Phoenix last month discussing preliminary details of SB 2109, community members, including farmers and ranchers, were upset they have never been consulted by the Hopi chairman or his council members of the terms or conditions of SB 2109. Sipaulovi Rep. George Mase heads the Water and Energy Team. SB 2109 - titled "Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Act of 2012 - has been introduced by Sen. Jon Kyl (R). SB 2109 would approve the settlement of water rights claims of both the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation. SB 2012 was termed as "an agreement in principle" by Shingoitewa in a formal press release issued by his office.
Hopi ranchers and farmers also voiced their demands that if a final decision regarding their water, which they consider "sacred" is to be made, that this can only come through a formal BIA referendum vote of the entire Hopi and Tewa community people.
"The whole problem is that many of our Hopi and Tewa community members have no idea what is really going on at the council level. Neither Shingoitewa or his Energy-Water Team have come to our villages to talk with us about this," said Rainy Naha of First Mesa. "And this issue is really, really big, really, really important ... you would think when it concerns something we consider this sacred and a part of our life covenant, that the chairman would have some respect for us to come and talk to us.
"We're all farmers, ranchers or artists, trying to live a good life out here, staying with our traditional activities and trying to live the Hopi way. Water is for everybody, it's what we say is the meaning of life. Water is sacred and precious," said Naha. "Hopis have always been so careful with water, our elders tell us, don't just be washing your car and be careful to not let water run needlessly and be careful about how you water your gardens.
We are peaceable, approachable people but Shingoitewa has shown us no respect at all.
The water and our land belong to our people, not to the Hopi Tribal council to negotiate away."
A recent study by Dr. Daniel Higgins, scientist and hydrologist at University of Arizona, provides evidence of water level decline at Kayenta and also a spring discharge decline at Moencopi from excessive water pumping.
Kyl's SB 2109 bill requires both tribes to agree to "waiver and release of claims for water rights, injury to water rights and injury to water quality from time immemorial and thereafter, forever."
Hoping to stop Kyl's bill dead in its tracks, two former Hopi tribal chairmen, Ben Nuvamsa and Ivan Sidney, have drafted a Hopi tribal resolution and action item they hope to have sponsored by at least one Hopi council representative in this next Hopi council legislative session "to prohibit Tribal Chairman Leroy Shingoitewa and the Hopi Water and Energy Team from further negotiations on this matter."
"Our villages existed long before a federal government established our homelands in 1882 as a federal reservation and certainly before we had a tribal council or government," said Nuvamsa. "Our Hopi Constitution, which was adopted in 1936, recognizes the inherent, self-governing powers of our traditional villages. These powers were never delegated to the central government and remain to this day as reserved rights of our villages and people."
"History really does repeat itself. First, it was the U.S. government creating a law to force us to accept $5 million for taking our Hopi land. It was called the 'Aboriginal Claims Case,'" said Sidney. "Now today, same scene with Shingoitewa and the Water Energy Team, have already 'agreed in principle' to the Kyl water rights bill that will terminate the Hopi people's right to their own aboriginal water properties. We may not need or want to use all our water right here and now, but it is ours, it belongs to the people, and the people must be the ones to manage Hopi water for the future.
"I urge all Hopi people to educate themselves, attend some of the public forums on the water issues and ask hard questions of their council reps, become involved, this is a really, really important issue," said Sidney. "Where are our Hopi community advocates and their old time peaceable marches against the Hopi Council? "We must let the Hopi council know we are seriously unhappy with their lack of research and input into these critical issues and also let Kyl and McCain know at the state and national level, that Shingoitewa and the Hopi Council do not have our approval or authorization to discuss or negotiate for these village water rights."
Phone calls to both Chairman Shingoitewa's press officer, Louella Nahsonhoya, and Mase for comments on the Hopi community concerns and clarification regarding the "agreement in principle" went unanswered.
The proposed Nuvamsa-Sidney tribal resolution and action item that Nuvamsa hopes to get on the Hopi Council agenda finalizes by stating, "that should any proposal be offered to the Hopi Tribe in the future to settle the Hopi Tribe's water rights, that such a proposal shall not be acted on without the vote of the eligible members of the Hopi Tribe through a formal voter referendum."