Navajo government hires firm to push through theft of Navajo Hopi water rights

By Brenda Norrell

The Navajo Nation has hired an aggressive pro-mining firm to push through the theft of Navajo and Hopi water rights for the benefit of non-Indians and corporations in Arizona. The firm was hired over the protests of the Navajo people. The scheme would rob Navajos and Hopis of water rights to the Little Colorado River.

Klee Benally, Navajo, said that Navajo President Ben Shelly and the tribal government are using the peoples money to hire the firm, while disposing of their water rights to the Little Colorado River for future generations.

"Aside from the serious concerns with the impacts of the water settlement this action has asserted that the Navajo Nation leadership does not care what the Dine' people think," Benally said.

"How can the Shelly administration on one hand say that they are going to listen to the people's concerns and schedule public forums, and on the other hand hire an aggressive lobbying group to 'secure Congressional approval?'"

"What’s the point of these public forums then? To affirm a foregone conclusion? Not only are they supporting the settlement, they are going to spend our money to get it approved. To make matters worse and to clarify that Shelly administration doesn't care what Dine' people say, Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber and Schreck is in bed with the very energy companies that the settlement would benefit."

The Legal Times Blog reports: "Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck has notified Congress it is lobbying for the Navajo Nation on legislation that would settle water rights claims of the southwestern tribe.

"The firm has deployed shareholder David Bernhardt, policy director Elizabeth Gore and of counsel Ryan Smith to advocate on the Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Act, according to a lobbying registration report Brownstein filed last week. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Benjamin Quayle (R-Ariz.) introduced the legislation last month."

"Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly has commended McCain for introducing the bill and has pledged to work with Congress to pass the measure," Legal Times reports.

Arizona is increasingly desperate for water downstream, as is the Navajo Generating Station, operated by the Salt River Project, and located on Navajoland. It is one of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the US. It uses coal from Peabody Coal mining on Black Mesa.

The cities of Tucson and Phoenix are also desperate for water to maintain lavish lifestyles, with golf courses and lawns in the desert. Many Navajos and Hopis live without running water or electricity. They live with the pollution and disease from coal mining on Black Mesa and coal-fired power plants.

American Indians are guaranteed expansive water rights for their use under the Winters Doctrine.

The current water rights scheme, disguised as a water rights settlement before Congress, would erase those rights under the Winters Doctrine.

Meanwhile, former leaders of the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation released statements opposing the Congressional bills.

Vernon Masayesva, Ivan Sidney and Benjamin Nuvamsa, all former chairmen of the Hopi Tribe, and Milton Bluehouse, former president of the Navajo Nation, released the following statment.

We take this opportunity to respond to Arizona Senator Jon Kyl's April 4 letter 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 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 Senator Kyl is pushing is not "consistent with previous water settlements in New Mexico, Montana and Arizona," as he claims.

We do agree that "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. 

More:
The lobbying firm, Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber and Schreck, co-chairs the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force."
http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Brownstein_Hyatt_Farber_Schreck

Have a look at their client list as well: http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/firmsum.php?id=D000000724&year=2011

Peabody and SRP are both part of ALEC.

Additionally interesting to find that Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP
is part of the Arizona Mining Association: http://www.azmining.com/members/our-members

ABOUT ALEC:
ALEC is not a lobby; it is not a front group. It is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, behind closed doors, corporations hand state legislators the changes to the law they desire that directly benefit their bottom line. Along with legislators, corporations have membership in ALEC. Corporations sit on all nine ALEC task forces and vote with legislators to approve “model” bills. They have their own corporate governing board which meets jointly with the legislative board. (ALEC says that corporations do not vote on the board.) They fund almost all of ALEC's operations. Participating legislators, overwhelmingly conservative Republicans, then bring those proposals home and introduce them in statehouses across the land as their own brilliant ideas and important public policy innovations—without disclosing that corporations crafted and voted on the bills. ALEC boasts that it has over 1,000 of these bills introduced by legislative members every year, with one in every five of them enacted into law. ALEC describes itself as a “unique,” “unparalleled” and “unmatched” organization. It might be right. It is as if a state legislature had been reconstituted, yet corporations had pushed the people out the door. Learn more at www.ALECexposed.org

Read more from Blog of Legal Times: Brownstein Hyatt Lobbying for Navajo Nation on Water Rights

http://legaltimes.typepad.com/blt/2012/03/brownstein-hyatt-lobbying-for-navajo-nation-on-water-rights.html

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

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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.