Letters: Bears Ears is the path toward healing

Yá’át’ééh. I write to you as the Navajo Nation Council Delegate elected to represent four of the seven Utah Navajo chapter houses: Aneth, Red Mesa, Mexican Water, and Teec Nos Pos. I am also the official representative for government-to-government relations between Navajo Nation and the State of Utah, by appointment from the president, vice president and speaker of council of the Navajo Nation. In essence, I represent Utah Navajos and the Nation in all dealings with the State of Utah.

Let me be clear: I stand with my people in full support of Bears Ears National Monument. The Navajo Nation Council has unanimously voted in favor of Bears Ears National Monument. In May the Council sent a letter to President Obama respectfully requesting that he exercise his power under the Antiquities Act to designate Bears Ears National Monument.

Firewood collection, herb gathering, ceremonial practices, and other traditional activities will all be allowed and protected within Bears Ears National Monument.

Currently, six of the seven Utah Navajo chapter houses formally support national monument designation. At one time, all seven Utah Navajo chapter houses had submitted resolutions of support.

Certain community members who oppose Bears Ears are behaving as though they speak for the Navajo people. State and county officials do not have authority to speak on behalf of our sovereign tribal nation. A Native county commissioner who has voted the same way as her non-Native colleague 99% of the time does not represent the Navajo people. It is clear where her loyalties lie.

Bears Ears National Monument is the path toward healing the past and protecting Chief Manuelito’s birthplace and descendants of Kaayelii lands for future generations. That is why I stand with the overwhelming majority of Utah Navajos and the Navajo Nation in asking President Barack Obama to protect Bears Ears now. Ahéhee’.

Davis Filfred
Red Mesa, Ariz.
23rd Navajo Nation Council Delegate

Don’t fund PNM’s next coal contract

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine life without oppression when it’s all I’ve ever known.

It seems lik the only time I have sovereignty is when private companies want to build a casino or a power plant on my land. All of a sudden they have concern for my “rights.” Outsiders have infiltrated our government and twisted the idea of sovereighnty to dodge environmental standards designed to protect our land and our bodies, even though I can scarecley iagine what is would be like to be treated with dignity, I must believe in a new dawn for our children. Because I want to be a part of this new dayn, I must now speak out on the oppressive behavior of a private company called PNM.

Roughly 60 percent of PNM’s energy is derived from coal-fired power plants. The coal for these plants is mined from beneath Navajo feet. The smoke from these plants fills Navajo lungs. The 5 billion gallons of water used annually to operate Four Corners Power Plant alone is sucked from Navajo aquifers. And yet, the electricity and revenue from these plants never seems to reach Navajo homes. One third of our people lack electricity, even when the power lines drift overhead for miles on end. Our average median family income is $7,200, while in the meantime the top five PNM executives make more than $9 million per year. How can this be?

To be honest, even if this coal-fired money and electricity was made available to me — a Diné woman of Church Rock, New Mexico — I wouldn’t want it. A Hunkpapa Lakota elder named Leroy Comes Last once told me: “All these resources that are taken out — like your oil, coal, uranium — the Creator put them there for a purpose. And they take them out without realizing what the purpose is all about, why they were there. As tribal people, we didn’t disturb that. The way Creator designed it, that’s the way we like it. Every human being has a purpose; every plant; every rock; every animal. They all have a purpose.”

Reflecting on his words, I realize my people not only survived, but thrived, in this harsh desert for tens of thousands of years without coal mining. We understood and we embodied the fact that what Creator gave us was enough.

And now, PNM wishes to push through another rate case though the Public Regulatory Commission which would lock New Mexican customers into payments for a 15-year long, $580 million coal contract. It would also usher in more expensive, toxic nuclear power from Palo Verde Nuclear Station into our energy system. As Diné people, we remember the hardship of radioactive energy and we live with its horrific legacy still today.

This rate case also proposes to more than double the fixed residential fee. Why would we do this when there are cheaper and less destructive energy technologies at hand? The answer to this question is simple: PNM proposes these rate hikes because they purchased expensive energy from obsolete sources and now they want New Mexicans to foot the bill. This is not the first time they have made promises to energy companies. PNM has internalized the profits and then shoved the responsibility onto New Mexicans’ shoulders.

In fact, because of the way the regulatory system is set up for every dollar they spend as a company, they earn that dollar back through rate hikes like this, plus 11.4 percent of that dollar on top as a “return o equity.” This backwards system actually encourages PNM to spend more on energy and evade cheaper, less destructive and maintenance-free renewable energy solutions. Meanwhle, the rest of the country is closing its coal plants and replacing them with renewable energy sources.

It would be a disservice, not only to ourselves, but to the morality of PNM leadership, if we allowed them to do this to us again. There is no amount of gold,, no amount of shareholder value, no nice house or fancy car, that is worth one’s honor. And so, not only for the sake of our people, our land and our children, but also for the sake of our dear relatives at PNM headquarters, who risk losing their very honor, we must refuse this.

Sometimes it is hard to imagine a world without oppression if that is all you have ever known. But the times are changing. We don’t have to live like this anymore. With the global community behind us, we can stand up to this oppression, create viable alternatives and throw off the yoke of PNM’s incessantly irresponsible, climate-altering behavior. Reject the rate case. Invest in renewables.

Lyla June Johnston
Albuquerque, N.M.

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Categories: Letters