Kyl, McCain meet with leaders while protesters gather behind police
By Alistair Mountz
Special to the Times
TUBA CITY, April 6, 2012
(Special to the Times - Alistair Mountz)
The Republican Arizona senators sat down for over an hour with Navajo leaders at the Hogan Restaurant in Tuba City.
The Navajo delegation included President Ben Shelly, Vice President Rex Lee Jim and 13 Council delegates including Dwight Witherspoon, Katherine Benally, Joshua Butler and Speaker Johnny Naize.
More than 200 activists and concerned community members protested outside the restaurant. Former chairmen of both tribes, who oppose the water bill, and protesters tried to enter the restaurant once the meeting began but a line of Navajo Nation Police refused them entrance.
Former Hopi chairman Vernon Masayesva was pushed to the floor by police, and former Navajo chairman Milton Bluehouse also claimed the police were aggressive.
According to Council delegates, the meeting was "a very open dialogue that allowed us to address issues of concern in a direct way."
Concerns of delegates included the question of why lease approvals for Navajo Generating Station and Peabody's Kayenta Mine are in the settlement and whether there will be timely funding for the proposed water projects for both tribes.
McCain and Kyl pledged SB 2109 will not move forward without tribal approval.
"He was clear," said Witherspoon. "The public has to hear and make a decision. Then we go forward."
Following the meeting the Navajo delegation came outside the restaurant and was immediately encircled by protesters with shouts of "sellout!" and chants of "recall Shelly!"
With the help of police Shelly eventually made his way to a nearby stage and addressed the crowd.
"I didn't sign anything," he said, standing behind a line of police officers. "This was agreed to by the Navajo Nation attorneys. You are the ones who are gonna say if you like this or not.
"Your concerns will be heard," he said. "Then it will go to the Council, and they can approve it or not approve it. That's the truth. It has to come from you."
Shelly has scheduled public forums about the water bill starting at Greyhills Academy High in Tuba City on April 17 at 7 pm.