Vote by council appreciated by many

By Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, June 12, 2012

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(Special to the Times - Donovan Quintero)

FIRST: A Senate Bill 2109 water rights settlement protestor is arrested by Navajo Nation Police July 5 during a special session at the Navajo Nation Council Chamber in Window Rock. The Navajo Nation Council voted against the settlement that afternoon.

SECOND FROM TOP: Navajo Nation Council Delegate Lorenzo Bates (Nenahnezad/Newcomb/San Juan/Tii Tsoh Sikaad/Tse' da'kaan/Upper Fruitland) listens to fellow delegate Joshua Butler speak about the water rights settlement, Senate Bill 2109, during their special session on July 5.

THIRD FROM TOP: Cooper Curley, right, from Jones Ranch, NM, looks at his niece Kinyaani Ame, 15 months, also from Jones Ranch, at the Navajo Nation Council Chamber in Window Rock. Curley attended the special council session on Senate Bill 2109.

A group of about 40 people gathered outside the Navajo Nation Council Chamber last Thursday to commend the council on its vote opposing the proposed Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement.

As speeches were being made July 5, Navajo activist Nicole Horseherder shared her thoughts about the tribal council's vote with the Times.

"First of all, I'm thankful that they voted the way they did," Horseherder said. "It's a huge relief for me."

A contributing factor to the council's decision was the numerous public comments - both oral and written - against the settlement, she said, adding that opponents are not anti-settlement but want one that carries the best interest for the Navajo people.

"We let our leadership know we are involved, we want to stay involved," she said. "We want to be part of the solution. We're willing to put the work into a new document that is the best settlement for the people."

Another item that needs to be examined by the tribal leadership is the work being completed by the Navajo Nation Water Rights Commission and tribal water rights attorney Stanley Pollack, she said.

If the process begins to draft a new settlement, Horseherder would like council delegate Dwight Witherspoon, who voted against the settlement, to be at the negotiating table.

"He understands the document. He understands what changes need to be made to make it right for the people," she said.

As the gathering continued, Darlene Martin of Mesa, Ariz., was trying to post a photograph on her Facebook page.

Martin and her sister, Pauline Martin Sanchez, traveled from Mesa to attend the special session.

"I think it's great, I'm glad. This is a wonderful day in history," Martin said. "I do appreciate the outcome of today's vote, that they voted it down, because I did not want this."

Because of the distance between Mesa and the Navajo Nation, Martin did not attend any of town hall meetings and public hearings that focused on the settlement but followed the issue on Facebook and through her own research.

Before the event ended, the group gathered for a photograph. Among them was St. Michaels resident Solito Becenti.

"For me, I'm very happy about what happened today," Becenti said. "It's a monkey off my shoulder. This is a good victory."

What contributed to the bill's failure was that the people questioned the settlement, along with the inclusion of Navajo Generating Station in the deal, and they shared their opinions with the delegates, he said.

"This isn't the days when we signed something we don't know with our thumbprint. We live in a day and age now where we're not like that anymore. We know what's going on. We're educated. We carry around a fine, nice-looking pen to sign our name," he said.

Like Horseherder, Becenti would like the council to review the work of Pollack and the Water Rights Commission.

"We can work together with Congress on an agreement but we want it to where it's in the interest to everyone and it can help benefit," he said.

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