Letters: Vote in the spirit of K’e

When I returned to the Navajo Nation, I heard K’e many times. I thought of the beauty of hearing the word and concept. I hope that everyone, who are registered to vote, vote for the next president of the Navajo Nation, who will move us forward. Is it time to clean house?

I recall at one meeting I attended ages ago an individual informed us that some of the appointees were abusing their authorities. It was suggested that the only way to remove them was to choose a new candidate to run for office. As constituent:

  • I would vote for someone who walks the talk, i.e., substantiate talk with significant actions.
  • I would like to know who would be the next first lady or first gentleman.
  • I would like our letters answered. I read in the paper that my brother, Justin Yazzie Jr., has not received a response to his letter yet. As a former Northern Plains Office of Native American Programs of U.S. HUD employee, we had 30 days to answer general letters, 10 days for congressional letters and as for FOIA letters as indicated by FOIA.
  • I would like the next president to set up tracking records of all letters received and answered if one has not been set-up yet.
  • I would like the Navajo Nation’s policies updated and implemented. In 2015 and 2016, I wrote to three top public safety officials (two from executive branch and one from legislative branch) about their employee’s abuse of her position and have not ever received a response. I thought, is the Navajo Nation’s Personnel Policy’s Table of Penalties bogus? In 2018, I heard from an officer that the person was removed. I do not know if she was terminated or moved to another location. Via this letter, I want to thank the Shiprock people for listening to my story at the chapter meeting and their support.
  • I would like contracts with the Navajo Nation honored over policy. My brother as a rancher has a contract with the Navajo Nation. Contracts are legal binding and new policy should not overrule legal contract. I Googled contract default and got the following: “If a default occurs, the first place to look is the contract itself. In most cases, contracts trump local laws, so your contract is the best guide for what constitutes default and what options both parties have. Most contracts have standard language allowing a party to terminate a contract if one party violates the contract. However, the contract might give the other party time to cure the default. For example, a contractor who is not paid timely might be required to give a client three days to pay before terminating the contract.” I would recommend a lawyer concerning contracts and leave it to the lawyers to debate on what I Googled. What I mentioned above are doable. Veterans, elderly, health, jobs, economy, fiscal responsibility, clean energy, small businesses, and education to mention a few are very important. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Nancy D. Todea
Shiprock, N.M.

A response from a civilized Dineh

“Shooo!” is often a response by a civilized Dineh on the rez when he/she hears or overhears a person voicing something either outrageous or insulting.

I was quite baffled by the meanings behind the subtitle and the wholesale ramblings of the following article: “Journalistic integrity may not exist; Navajo Times unable to find it,” Navajo Times, Aug. 8-9, 2018.

As a retired university molecular biology professor I do quite a bit of reading and hiking the Grand Canyon. In the article written by the Dineh Nation controller, Ms. Pearline Kirk, I expected newsworthiness expressed with integrity and clarity so that I am informed. Instead, all I was able to conjure up in my mind was a statement repeated five times in five paragraphs — something about a long-tailed African baboon.

Now that leads me to think that the writer was on either alcohol and/or drugs plus having a one-tract mind that was unable to write sensibly. And this is the Dineh Nation controller writing and attempting to disseminate logical information? I know the Dineh Nation released a well-educated controller only a few months ago — and a “baboon-minded counter of money” is what we got as replacement? Now, I’m ready to go off on a “bacterium that is both blue and green and sometimes having no color.”

K’e is a strong Dineh cultural term for endearment and respect. I can see that Ms. Kirk has no K’e for Ms. (Cindy) Yurth (reporter who wrote the article to which Kirk was responding). Conversely, I have a lot of K’e for Ms. Yurth even though she is non-Dineh — as I know her to be an excellent writer, much like Bill Donovan, and an excellent Grand Canyon trekker — I know, as I have seen her at the bottom.

Tacheeni Scott
Flagstaff, Ariz.

The debate about coal-fired power plants

The Navajo Generating Station near Page, Arizona, is due to close at the end of 2019. It is unfortunate that hundreds – mostly Navajo – employees will lose their jobs if it shuts down.

Many have worked there for decades and fear they will be unemployable because they have no other job skills or will have to move and leave their family behind to work, possibly in another state. Navajo leaders strive to keep NGS running and seek a buyer. When the NGS closes, the Kayenta mine will surely close, too.

New Mexico governor hopeful Steve Pearce backs the continuation of coal-fired power plants and coal mines. The Trump administration is also on board to keep them running. In opposition, the argument is that coal-fired power plants need to go due to the harmful health effects they have on the environment and humankind.

The Washington Post wrote: “Environmental activists welcomed the prospect of closing the plant, one of the biggest polluters in the country. The Navajo Generating Station was third on a 2014 Environmental Protection Agency list of major carbon-emitting facilities” (Dennis & Mufson, 2017).

Some of the harmful effects that come from coal-fired power plants: Every year, coal-fired power plants in the U.S. emit more than 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide, as much as 300 million cars per year, more than 9 million tons of sulphur dioxide, which is the major cause of acid rain, and 50 tons of mercury which is a potent neurotoxin that can harm developing babies and infants.

In addition, every year, coal-fired power plants in the U.S. cause: 23,600 deaths, 554,000 asthma attacks, 38,000 heart attacks, and $160 billion in health care costs (The Story Group, 2009). On Oct. 16, 2017, Trump instigated an executive order to the EPA (former) administrator, Scott Pruitt, to review the Clean Power Plan. After doing so, the EPA proposed to repeal the CPP. The CPP is Barrack Obama’s 2015 regulation to reduce air pollution from coal-fired power plants.

Its purpose is to fight climate change. Currently, the legal battles in our nation’s courts and the mounting pressure from environmental groups continue against Trump’s initiative to repeal Obama’s CPP and a slew of other environmental regulations.

As of today, there are 104 environmental lawsuits against the federal government (Trump administration) initiated by a nonprofit organization, Earthjustice, with over 100 lawyers who do not charge for their services to save our earth/ourselves. Following is an excerpt from Earthjustice: “Coal plants all over the country dump toxic chemicals into rivers, lakes, and streams that millions of Americans use for drinking water and recreation.

“The toxics in coal plant waste can cause cancer, make fish unsafe to eat, and inflict lasting brain damage on small children. Heavy metals in the waste, like lead, arsenic, and mercury, don’t degrade over time, and can concentrate as they travel up the food chain — impacting fish and wildlife, and ultimately collecting in people’s bodies.

“Power plant pollution can also make municipal water bills more expensive because water treatment plants may have to spend more money to ensure that they deliver safe water to their customers.” (https://earthjustice.org/features/erasing-democracy).

One may sympathize with the NGS worker, and maybe only his/her co-worker can truly empathize with a loss of job because he/she is in the same position. It goes without saying the shutdown of the NGS will hit hard, financially, on the state, the Navajo and Hopi people.

One thing for sure: We do not give up. Collectively, Native Americans are living miracles. We were not supposed to have survived. I need not go into that history, we all know. Life is about seeking/finding answers to the challenges/hardships that come our way, even if the fix doesn’t happen in the now, then for the next generation.

Tammie Blackwater
Farmington, N.M.

N-aquifer is key to NGS discussion

To: Russell Begaye, President of the Navajo Nation

Lorenzo Bates, Speaker of the Navajo Nation Council

We are writing to you regarding our deep concerns over the Navajo Nation’s interest in the potential purchase of Navajo Generating Station and to ask that you reconsider this transaction, on behalf of the people and communities that would be most impacted by continued operation of the power plant past the current December 2019 closure date.

Over the past month, our unease at the prospect of new ownership for NGS has only grown, fueled by unsettling new information about Avenue Capital’s business model and proposed purchase. So we are reaching out to you again to consider changing your investment strategy to one focused on the development, maintenance and operation of clean energy development.

Perhaps the most critical issue regarding the operation of NGS and the associated coal mine, after 2019, is the protection of the groundwater. The groundwater in dispute occurs within an underground formation known as the Navajo Aquifer. Water that collects there slowly percolates from the northwest sector of the Navajo Reservation into a set of shallow, fingerlike projections near the Hopi villages in the south, discharging after many years into a host of gentle washes and springs. The N-aquifer is the most significant water source in the region.

The N-Aquifer naturally satisfies EPA standards for drinking water — unlike the region’s other aquifers, whose contents are brackish or contaminated by uranium or coal. Ultimately, the sustainability of two cultures, the Hopi and Navajo who live on Black Mesa, is at stake with the continued industrial use and waste of the N-Aquifer.

Because there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that Peabody’s yearly withdrawal of potable water from the N-aquifer is endangering the ability of the Hopi and the Navajo to draw on groundwater for subsistence and other needs. Therefore the industrial use of the N-aquifer must end along with the closure of the NGS plant.

Further, any new coal contracts must not include the use of the N-Aquifer for industrial use purposes. From the beginning, the annual withdrawal of more than a billion gallons of potable water for mining purposes caused concern. When Peabody negotiated its initial arrangement with the tribes in the mid-1960s, Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall included an escape clause that could be triggered if Peabody’s pumping adversely affected the aquifer and its users.

Yet despite numerous studies and now-obvious signs of negative impacts, Interior has not exercised its contractual authority in the nearly 45 years since the original leases were signed. The application of this duty in the context of Black Mesa requires that the United States and the Navajo Nation assure an adequate supply of water to the tribes, even if this means restraining Peabody and any new buyers use of the N-Aquifer.

Hydrogeologists at the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement have monitored the health of the N-aquifer since the late 1980s, and their records, together with data collected by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Peabody Coal Company itself, paint the picture of a system in decline.

Since Peabody began using N-aquifer water for its coal slurry operations, pumping an average of 4,000 acre-feet — more than 1.3 billion gallons — each year, water levels have decreased by more than 100 feet in some wells and discharge has slackened by more than 50 percent in the majority of monitored springs.

While the slurry line has ceased operation in 2005, the Kayenta mine continues to use 1200 acre-feet for its operation, which is almost double the amount it used before the closure of the Black Mesa Pipeline.

Most disturbing, at least one OSMRE’s own criteria for material damage has been exceeded. These criteria were established in 1989 to help prevent damage to the aquifer and its water supply, as the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act requires. Unfortunately, OSMRE’s efforts at applying them have been hampered by gaps in its groundwater-monitoring program, delays in assessment, and overreliance on outdated models to the neglect of data collection in the field.

It seems apparent that the Navajo Nation is now embarking on negotiations for the continuation of the NGS plant after 2019. In lieu of this effort, let me reiterate the need for any new buyer to find their own water source at their own expense. Any new contract must not include the N-Aquifer or related aquifers for industrial use. Finally, the Navajo Nation and federal government should work cooperatively to manage aquifer resources.

Fundamental to any management plan should be self-governance for the tribes, enforceable limits on withdrawals from the N-aquifer, and regulations that recognize the environmental and cultural significance of the N-aquifer and the sacred springs it feeds.

Nicole Horseherder
Black Mesa, Ariz.

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Categories: Letters