Protestors doubt benefits of water pact

By Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Sept. 30, 2010

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Jerry Yazzie Sr. wants to see the Navajo Nation receive its fair share of water from the Colorado River.

Yazzie traveled from Lukachukai, Ariz., to voice his opinion outside the Navajo Nation Council Chamber before the start of the special session Wednesday.

On the agenda was the Northeastern Arizona Indian Water Rights Settlement Agreement, which would permanently settle the Navajo Nation's claim to water in the Colorado River below the Glen Canyon Dam, including the Little Colorado River.

Yazzie wanted the Council to vote against the settlement because it's not an equitable deal, in addition to the settlement not being presented to the Navajo people, he said.

"Someday when these delegates are out of the chambers, the future generations will be here to deal with the impact," he said.

Understanding the settlement's impact on future generations and thinking about today was part of the reason why the group of about 60 citizens and members of environmental groups marched from the Window Rock Shopping Center to the council chamber.

As they made their way, they carried banners and signs voicing their opposition.

"No future without water, Dooda water settlement," one of the big banners read.

Andrew Kelly was among the marchers.

"I happen to be 60 and I have grandkids. I don't want to see them lose their water rights," Kelly said.

Kelly is a Vietnam veteran and has been involved with Native American rights since the 1970s, he said.

He traveled with his wife, Vanessa Brown, from their home in Tuba City to participate in the demonstration.

Kelly understands that the Navajo Nation would receive 31,000 acre-feet per year of water (the settlement provides for other benefits, see related story). He would like to see the Council table the settlement and return to the negotiating table.

He would also like Navajo voters to be the ones to decide the settlement's fate through a special election.

"I feel that we'll get short-changed about this," he said about leaving it to the Council.

Outside the chamber, Dan Herder was holding a large cardboard sign stating, "Don't sell out our kids and grandkids."

Herder, 56, of Big Mountain, Ariz., said water is essential to his life because he operates a small farm and owns livestock.

"They're just giving out all the water and not considering Mother Earth," Herder said.

He also thinks the construction of pipelines for the Dilkon and Ganado communities, as proposed in the settlement, are a way to buy delegates' votes.

When Council broke for lunch, a group chanted, "Save our future, we need water," as they circled the chamber.

Finding an available seat in the chamber gallery was impossible throughout the session.

Among those lucky enough to find seating was Shirleen Jumbo.

Jumbo is concerned that the settlement and its impact were not presented to the public.

"They're selling out our children," Jumbo said. "When you know something is wrong, it's wrong."

After the Council tabled the settlement, the demonstrators gathered again outside.

Ron Milford, a member of Concerned Citizens for Diné Water Rights, told the crowd that by tabling the motion, it gives people time to learn about the settlement.

He also encouraged the people to talk about this issue at the chapter level and have their chapters issue resolutions.

"We need to stand our ground," Milford said.

After Milford's speech, Flagstaff resident Ivis Peaches spoke.

"What the council did was good, they tabled it to look it over," Peaches said, adding that a week was not enough time to properly consider such a large document.

But he encouraged people to continue spreading the word.

"Let's fight for this right that is really ours," Peaches said.

Marshall Johnson, member of Tó Nizhóní Ání, questioned how the delegates are going to present the settlement to Navajo elders, especially translating the document in Navajo.

"They have to consider the elders," he said. "Why this water is important is that it is within the Four Sacred Mountains."

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