Arizona Senators water rights theft would be 'death sentence' for Navajos

By Brenda Norrell

Photo Sierra Club

Updated Friday, Feb. 17, 2012: Grassroots Navajos go to court to stop Peabody on Black Mesa

Dine' Citizens against Ruining our Environment condemned the latest schemes of Arizona Senators Jon Kyl and John McCain to steal Navajo water rights to the Little Colorado River, calling it a "death sentence."

Meanwhile, the easily manipulated media promoted Kyl and McCain's scam, designed to end Native American water rights, without ever checking the facts with Navajos who live on the land.

Also this week, Navajo grassroots organizations and environmental groups filed an appeal to halt Peabody Coal mining on Black Mesa, which continues to drain the aquifer and pollute the region resulting in widespread health problems, from the Peabody Kayenta coal mine.

Dine' CARE, a Navajo organization, opposed the Arizona senators' water rights scheme. "Dine' CARE strongly condemns the Big Business Salt River Project, Navajo Generating Station and Central Arizona Project bill portrayed as providing water to the Navajo Nation and Hopi to make life better."

"In reality this is a death sentence where the Indigenous Peoples will be forever giving up their water rights to Lower Colorado River," Dine' CARE said in a statement on Thursday.

“It is important for native communities to unite and oppose this legislation," said Dine’ CARE president Adella Begaye. “We cannot afford to be idle as our future generations are robbed of their heritage and lifeline.” 

The bill will occur if and when the tribes agree to extend the leases and other agreements associated with the Navajo Generating Station, Dine' CARE said.

Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., introduced the settlement Tuesday from the floor of the U.S. Senate. He said, "It brings us one step closer to addressing the significant water needs of impoverished areas on the Navajo and Hopi reservations, while also providing certainty for non-Indian communities trying to plan for their water future.”

Dine' CARE said Kyl's statement actually translates into: "The 1970s Salt River Project lawyer, Senator Jon Kyl, is still carrying out SRP and CAP’s priorities to take the water rights from aboriginal water owners in northern Arizona."

"To add insult to injury, not only has the Navajo Tribe suffered from receiving discounted value for water but suffer from consequences of pollution from Navajo Generating Station, who provides power for SRP and ensuring that Navajo Nation provide cheap electricity. A fair value is needed in this deal to not steal Navajo water and condemn the people to poor health from Navajo Generating Station's pollution," Dine' CARE said.

"The Navajo Nation is already an energy and water colony for Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas, and southern California. If passed, signed, and enacted, the Kyl bill would guarantee 34,000 plus acre-feet a year to Navajo Generating Station for the proposed extended life of the power plant. It also favors Peabody Coal Company since its Kayenta Mine fuels NGS."

Dine' CARE also pointed out that the expansive water rights for Native Americans guaranteed in the Winter's Doctrine would be extinguished if the Arizona Senators are allowed to carry out this theft of Indian water rights.

"The Winter's Doctrine water rights of the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe would be extinguished."

"Diné CARE opposed the Kyle and McCain’s legislation because it has no mercy for the Dine and Hopi people. Instead, it will continue the 'improvised state' created by Kyl and his corporate partners on the Navajo people."

"In sum, the KYL bill must be KILLED before it KILLS us," Dine' CARE said.

Navajos, environmental organizations, appeal Peabody's Kayenta coal mine

 

Also this week, a group of five organizations -- To Nizhoni Ani, Black Mesa Water Coalition, Dine C.A.R.E, Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity -- filed an appeal that challenges the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement’s (OSM) decision to renew a permit for Peabody Coal Company's dirty Kayenta mine.

The appeal charges that OSM revised a permit without considering data and analysis demonstrating how Peabody's pumping of the Navajo Aquifer for coal mining operations is linked to declining water levels, springs and groundwater quality in Navajo communities. The appeal also charges that OSM ignored these signs of material damage and changed the criteria that the agency has used for evaluating the mine’s impact on Black Mesa’s Navajo Aquifer since 1989.

“With this appeal we are ensuring that Peabody is held accountable to the federal laws that protect our communities, environment, water, sacred places and cultural resources,” said Jihan Gearon of Black Mesa Water Coalition. “It's time for OSM to stop facilitating the destruction of our lands and instead support us in holding the corporations who operate on our lands accountable."

"The Navajo Aquifer is the primary source of drinking water to thousands of Navajo and Hopi residents and has a central role in each tribe's cultural practices. For nearly 40 years Peabody has mined the Kayenta Mine, which has supplied approximately 8.5 million tons of coal annually to the Navajo Generating Station in northeastern Arizona. Both the Kayenta Mine and the coal plant operations have significantly impacted several indigenous communities, particularly in the Black Mesa region, by damaging community health and polluting water resources," the coalition said in a statement.

Marshall Johnson of To Nizhoni Ani, said, “Drinking water wells in our community have declined over a hundred feet. Sinkholes and cracks near Forest Lakes have occurred where the surface is subsiding. Water quality has deteriorated and our sacred springs are disappearing. For OSM to just ignore this and say there are no significant impacts is a violation of their trust responsibility to our people."

The organizations said that between 1969 and 2005 alone, Peabody pumped over 4,000 acre-feet of water annually from the Navajo Aquifer and continues to pump approximately 1,200 acre-feet for use at its mine operations. Peabody has historically been the largest pumper of regional groundwater, which is also used by local indigenous communities as their primary source of drinking water.

Further, OSM’s permit allows Peabody to expand their operations into new areas that will force Navajo families to relocate, losing their ancestral homes for more coal development. “Four families will be relocated to make way for the mine expansion,” states Anna Frazier of Dine CARE. “How many more communities must be uprooted before OSM believes the impacts of this mine operation are significant?”

The appeal also argues that OSM failed to comply with several environmental laws and has not kept Peabody from posting adequate bonds to help pay for reclamation of the mine areas. "Peabody has gotten another rubber stamp from OSM and local residents' health and homes have been sacrificed in the name of cheap coal. OSM must do better a better job to protect the communities of Black Mesa,” states Andy Bessler of the Sierra Club. 

Attorney Brad Bartlett of the Western Energy Justice Project and Margot Pollans of the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University are represented the organizations.

A dark day for journalism 

This week, most media fell for the water rights scam, a ploy by Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl to steal Navajo water rights to the Little Colorado River. The paternalistic Sen. Kyl offered Navajos on Black Mesa a trickle of water to give up their water rights to the Little Colorado.

Navajo President Ben Shelly has been on a roll, wanting to give away Navajo water rights to non-Indians, pressing to halt clean air standards to benefit corporate coal fired power plants, line item vetoing Navajo green jobs, and signing a deal with the war machine in search of uranium.

The Navajo Nation signed a three agreement with the war machines Lawrence Livermore, Sandia and Los Alamos labs. Although the Navajo Nation prohibits uranium mining, Navajo President Shelly told Scientific American that "the tribe would monitor technology and techniques to extract the ore, as well as market conditions, to determine whether it might be viable in the future." http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505245_162-57370417/navajo-teams-up-with-lab-on-tribal-energy-policy/

The media played its role in the ongoing abuse of Native Americans, cheerleading for the theft of Indian water rights and the promotion of coal fired power plants.

With the collapse of the media, the easily conned media regurgitated press releases. The armchair journalists spun their stories from the comfort of their easy chairs, and never went out to Black Mesa to ask Navajos for the facts.

It was the worst case scenario: The media depended on press releases and phone calls to lying politicians.

It was a dark day for journalism, and a death roll for the air, land and water.

Countering these attacks by elected Navajo leaders is Louise Benally, Dine' of Big Mountain resisting relocation on Black Mesa.

The so-called Navajo Hopi land dispute is actually a result of the backdoor schemes of Arizona Congressmen and attorneys for Peabody Coal. The goal is to remove more than 14,000 Navajos from their homeland to expand Peabody coal mines on Black Mesa.

Benally said greed is the reason that elected Navajo leaders are pushing for coal mining and power plants that are poisoning the environment and making the people sick, while fighting against green jobs.

On Native America Calling this week, Benally said the term "clean coal" is a dirty lie.

"They are killing the earth. There is no respect for the earth, they are killing the earth in the name of greed."

Watch this week's video interview with Louise Benally:

http://bsnorrell.blogspot.com/2012/02/video-dine-louise-benally-responds-to.html

Reference: Sen. Kyl's water theft agreement:
http://ktar.com/6/1501598/AP-Exclusive-Kyl-to-introduce-tribal-water-deal
 

About Brenda Norrell

Brenda Norrell has been a news reporter in Indian country for 32 years. She is publisher of Censored News, focusing on Indigenous Peoples, human rights and the US border. Censored News was created after Norrell was censored, then terminated, by Indian Country Today after serving as a longtime staff reporter. Now censored by the mainstream media, she previously was a staff reporter at numerous American Indian newspapers and a stringer for AP, USA Today and others. She lived on the Navajo Nation for 18 years, and then traveled with the Zapatistas. She covered the climate summits in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and Cancun, Mexico, in 2010.

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About Brenda Norrell

Personal Website
http://www.bsnorrell.blogspot.com/

Biography

Brenda Norrell has been a news reporter in Indian country for 32 years. She is publisher of Censored News, focusing on Indigenous Peoples, human rights and the US border. Censored News was created after Norrell was censored, then terminated, by Indian Country Today after serving as a longtime staff reporter. Now censored by the mainstream media, she previously was a staff reporter at numerous American Indian newspapers and a stringer for AP, USA Today and others. She lived on the Navajo Nation for 18 years, and then traveled with the Zapatistas. She covered the climate summits in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and Cancun, Mexico, in 2010.