PHOENIX — Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said the Nation would continue to pursue an agreement to protect all water rights it has to the Little Colorado River and all its tributaries during a mediation session with the Hopi Tribe.
The mediation session about the Little Colorado River (LCR) Water Settlement was held May 31 and came at the recommendation of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) who recognized the two tribes were at an impasse in negotiations. McCain solicited the assistance of the Udall Institute to facilitate the mediation.
“We appreciate the opportunity to have this meeting and I hope we can move these negotiations forward,” Begaye said. “We need to be further along in our negotiations at this point. This agreement is the catalyst to moving both nations forward in resolving water rights in Arizona."
On behalf of the Udall Institute, Brian Manwaring, acting director for the U.S. Institute of Environmental Health, noted that the two tribes had come together in early 2016 with the goal of reaching agreement on a perspective of “Two Tribes, One Voice” in addressing a potential LCR Settlement.
“Sen. McCain is wanting both tribes to re-engage in their discussion,” Manwaring said. “We are here to work with the tribes to figure out what’s happening. Our responsibility is to assist both tribes.”
Manwaring said he realizes that each tribe holds strong opinions in what they feel they deserve in a settlement. The role of the mediator is to look at what is behind each side’s position to bring forth a consensus or agreement.
“If both sides are going to haggle, neither party is going to reach an agreement,” he said. “We need to look at the structure of the positions, the communication going forth and to ensure that we have the right people at the table.”
In addressing the totality of the settlement, Begaye asked the Udall Institute and the Hopi Tribe to keep in mind that both tribes comprise only two stakeholders in the settlement.
“Coming to a resolution is just the beginning,” Begaye said. “We have to keep in mind that we also face opposition from non-Native interests. There will be a bigger fight as we move into discussion with non-Native stakeholders and then onto Congress.”
The president said it’s unfortunate that the Navajo Nation was left out of the original negotiations in 1922 when water distribution was first being determined. Because of that, Begaye said the Nation will now ensure that it’s always at the table whenever water is being discussed.
“We want to make sure that we fight for every ounce of water that belongs to us,” he said.
The president extended his appreciation for the opportunity to work with the Udall Institute in addressing any of the disagreements causing the impasse.
“The Navajo Nation understands how important water is in everything we do, which is why we will do everything to protect our water,” Begaye said. “This includes protecting it against contamination and misuse. Water is life and it gives life to all our land, livestock and people.”
The Udall Institute scheduled a follow-up meeting for June 29, at a location to be determined. The trial for the LCR adjudication will commence in September 2018.
“Timing in moving the settlement forward is critical at this point,” Begaye said.