Commentary & Essays

Democracy Unwelcome on Navajo and Hopi Nations?



This is a response to news releases sent out by Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley & the Hopi Tribal Council.
Read the news and releases below this statement.

(Friday, October 2nd, 2009) Window Rock, AZ — In a recent proclamation the President of the Navajo Nation, Joe Shirley Jr., sided with the Hopi Tribal Council in an attack on democratic rights of the Dine’ people to protect their environment and health of their communities.

Shirley stated that “Local and national environmental groups [are] unwelcome” on reservation lands.

I would expect this type of declaration from totalitarian government dictators, not those who are democratically elected leaders of Tribal Nations. Considering the history of colonization and BIA established puppet governments on Native American lands,Shirley’s statement is not surprising.

Joe Shirley proclaimed, “Unlike ever before, environmental activists and organizations are among the greatest threat to tribal sovereignty, tribal self-determination, and our quest for independence.” He barely falls short of using the word “terrorists”.

Dissenters, critics, and issue oriented advocates should be a welcome and integral part of an informed and functioning democratic society.  Indeed, both Hopi and Dine communities are made up of many Native American environmentalists.  Shirley would have us believe that anyone who stands in the way of his office’s interests would be an opponent of his own concept of tribal sovereignty.

Attempting to silence the voice and limit the rights of Dine’ people to protect their life, land and liberty is not sovereignty, its in the direction of totalitarianism.

Why haven’t we heard such fierce and direct statements from these government leaders about the threat that drug dealers and domestic and sexual violence perpetuators pose or the overcrowded jails on the Rez which continually push violent criminals back out into the community?

Joe Shirley is stating that only certain types of environmental advocacy are welcome. Are those just types that he agrees with? What standard will be applied to know what groups and what actions are welcome?

When any population does not agree with the actions of their governments, those citizens have the right to protest. The civil rights struggles against the U.S. government are testimony to this.

Does sovereignty really mean being dependent on non-renewable energy that destroys Mother Earth, pollutes drinking water and air and compromises our holy covenant with nature? Does it mean being dependent on casinos and outside corporate interests?

Why not quantify other threats to sovereignty? Are gaming compacts also concessions of sovereignty? Or is the double standard acceptable as long as the money is green? Would increased advocacy against gaming and gambling addictions be the next “threat to sovereignty”?

Joe Shirley defines sovereignty as “economic independence” that is solved with projects like Desert Rock but his example of leadership is to bully those who don’t agree with his energy politics.

It is no surprise that Joe Shirley defends coal mining and turns his cheek to the suffering of tens of thousands of Dine’ families who have been severely impacted by forced relocation and Peabody Energy’s mining activities.

How is what Peabody has done to our environment and communities in and around Black Mesa defensible against the “threat” of outside environmentalists? Relocation, water table depletion, contamination of livestock water sources, and much more?

In fact, many of our people have lived and continue to live in economic poverty before and during Peabody Coal’s contribution to the “independence” of our Nation. Right now on Black Mesa, many of my relatives still live with no running water or electricity, where is Joe Shirley’s sovereignty for them?

Would Joe Shirley and the HTC rather have Snowbowl, Desert Rock, Peabody, Monsanto, and other corporations or private businesses act with absolutely no mechanisms for community accountability as well?

Snowbowl and the City of Flagstaff say that wastewater snowmaking on the holy San Francisco Peaks is necessary for their economy and jobs. Are they then justified in their actions?

The direct relationship between people and their environment is a cultural value. When you break down that relationship you break down the culture and the traditions that have been passed on from generation to generation. Will our cultural sovereignty be compromised for the benefit of outside corporations? Is the Navajo Nations relationship to outside corporations more of a defining factor of sovereignty than environment, culture and traditions?

It must be understood that if not for environmental advocacy groups and concerned citizens, that more of the Navajo Nations water ways would be contaminated with uranium, more sacred places would be destroyed, more of our people would be forced from their homelands.

It would be absurd to think that Mr. Shirley and the HTC are acting on the will of the people or in the best interest of those who must have clean water to drink, clean air to breathe, unpolluted land to plant seeds, and holy places that are not desecrated.

If it were not for environmentalists, corporations would have ravaged our lands and people for their own benefit long ago. What better way to promote safeguards which uphold traditional values that guide us as stewards of our Mother Earth than to promote the democratic participation of the people who work to advocate on behalf of a healthy environment? Joe Shirley & the HTC have sent a message that only certain types of democracy are allowed within reservation boundaries. This action emboldens those who seek to destroy our Mother Earth for their own profit and pleases those who prefer totalitarianism.

Regardless of which organizations are being targeted and attacked, the message that Shirley and the HTC are sending are one that should be alarming to anyone who cares about their basic rights. What happens when we don’t agree with their decisions or policies? Do we end up on a list of those “unwelcome” as well?

My grandmother Roberta Blackgoat once said, “I know each tree, each plant that grows right there. And they know me. The children, grandchildren, great grandchildren need to be right there. We need them to get back to the land and live on our ancestors’ land.” She said that the “relocatees” die of “worriness,” “missing their traditional food and not knowing where to go to pray”.  Blackgoat said, “As long as I live, I’m not going to sign” and continued to demand “(Peabody) stop destroying the Mother Earth’s liver and blood; the coal and the water”.  

Until her passing she resisted relocation, still abandoned by the Navajo Nation government, “unwelcome” by the Hopi Tribal government, and as a testimony to the injustices of US law.

Would she still be unwelcome in her homeland Mr. Shirley—as an environmentalist, that is a woman who loved her Earth?

– Klee Benally


September 30, 2009
Arizona Republic
Hopis say conservationists unwelcome on tribal land

Dennis Wagner – Sept. 29, 2009 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

The Hopi Nation’s Tribal Council sent a message Monday to the Sierra Club and a handful of other environmental groups: Stay off the reservation.

Tina May, a council spokeswoman, said council members meeting in Kykotsmovi unanimously adopted a resolution declaring that the conservation groups are unwelcome on Hopi lands because they have damaged the tribe’s economy by pushing for closure of a coal-fired power plant near Page.

The resolution says environmentalists have “spread misinformation” about Hopi water and energy resources, attempting to “instill unfounded fears into the hearts and minds of Hopi public.”

The public castigation of conservation groups represents an unusual breach between a Native American tribe and environmental groups, which often work hand-in-hand on political causes, according to Ben Nuvamsa, a former tribal chairman.

Hopis, Navajos and other tribes have worked for years with the Sierra Club and similar groups, for example, to shut down ski slopes on the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff.

May said the resolution was meant as a symbolic expression by tribal leaders, and environmentalists will not be arrested if they enter Hopi country.

Nuvamsa said: “This group here has done so much to damage our tribal reputation and to violate our civil rights. As tribal members, we are all environmentalists because we’re supposed to take care of Mother Earth.”

Andy Bessler, a Sierra Club official in Flagstaff, expressed dismay at the resolution.

He noted that another group, Hopis Organized for Political Initiative, supports conservationist efforts to close the power plant.

This spring, a coalition involving the Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, and several Native American groups called on the Environmental Protection Agency to review the Navajo Generating Station’s role in smoggy skies over the Grand Canyon. They claimed the power plant is a source of “excessive pollution” and should be forced to reduce emissions.

The power plant and Hopi coal mines that fuel it support hundreds of families, providing more than 70 percent of the Indian nation’s governmental revenues, said Scott Canty, tribal counsel.

In 2005, environmentalists succeeded in closing the Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin, Nev. The Hopis claim that shutdown cost the tribe more than $6.5 million per year, and closure of Navajo Generating Station would wipe out another $11 million.

Nada Talayumptewa, chairwoman of the council’s energy team, said in a news release: “We need to make public that we don’t want the environmental groups coming in and causing trouble for the Hopi Tribe. It’s time we take a stand.”

Nuvamsa, who resigned last year during bitter political infighting among elected leaders, said tribal council actions are illegitimate because executive positions remain unfilled.

Under the Hopi Nation’s constitution, he and others asserted, “There is no Tribal Council.”

Canty said the council has legitimate authority under Hopi law, and opinions to the contrary are irrelevant. He said tribal members who support environmental groups are “shills” who have been mislead.

Canty said closure of the power plant and mine would be devastating for all Hopis: “The tribe would essentially be penniless.”

Sept. 30, 2009
Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, Jr., stands with Hopi Tribe
in opposition to environmental groups’ interference in sovereignty
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, Jr., said Wednesday that he strongly supports the Hopi Tribe’s resolution to declare local and national environmental groups unwelcome on Hopi land.

“I stand with the Hopi Nation,” President Shirley said. “Unlike ever before, environmental activists and organizations are among the greatest threat to tribal sovereignty, tribal self-determination, and our quest for independence.”

“By their actions, environmentalists would have tribes remain dependent on the federal government, and that is not our choice. I want the leaders of all Native American nations to know this is our position, and I would ask for their support of our solidarity with the Hopi Nation in the protection of their sovereignty and self-determination, as well as ours.”

On Monday, the Hopi Tribal Council unanimously approved a resolution that stated environmentalists have worked to deprive the tribe of markets for its coal resources and the revenue it brings to sustain governmental services, provide jobs for Hopis, and secure the survival of Hopi culture and tradition.As a result, the Hopi Council stated that the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Parks Conservation Association, and the Grand Canyon Trust and organizations affiliated with them are no longer welcome on Hopi land.

The Hopi Tribe’s resolution states that environmentalists “have manufactured and spread misinformation concerning the water and energy resources of the Hopi Tribe in an effort to instill unfounded fears into the hearts and minds of the Hopi public.”

The Council stated that these organizations have acted without regard for the tribe’s right to determine how best to develop and manage its natural resources on its land, nor have they shown concern for the future welfare of the tribe and its people.

The Council cited the closure of the Mohave Generating Station, which used coal exclusively from the Black Mesa Mine, as one example of an action by environmental groups that resulted in the loss of $6.5 million to $8.5 million in tribal revenues per year.

President Shirley said he and the Navajo Nation strongly support the positive goals of many environmental organizations, noting the Navajo Nation passed the Natural Resources Protection Act in 2005, the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency was recognized last June by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 9 for its 30-year partnership in protecting the Navajo environment and its leadership in the development of tribal environmental programs, and that in July he signed legislation into law to create the Navajo Green Commission.

However, he said some Navajo environmentalists and the non-Navajo environmental groups that support them work to the detriment of the Navajo people and Navajo Nation.

“Environmentalists are good at identifying problems but poor at identifying feasible solutions,” President Shirley said. “Most often they don’t try to work with us but against us, giving aid and comfort to those opposed to the sovereign decision-making of tribes. They support tribes only when tribes are aligned with their agenda, such as our opposition to renewed uranium mining in the Grand Canyon and on Native land.”

“Environmentalist actions led to the demise of Navajo logging and the closure of our sawmill at Navajo, New Mexico but did nothing to replace the 600 jobs that were lost,” President Shirley said. “Environmentalist actions led to the closure of the Mohave Generating Station and the shutdown of the Black Mesa Mine but did nothing to replace the 400 paychecks that were lost or the tribal revenue that was not replaced.”

“Now, environmentalists are doing all they can to prevent the development of the Desert Rock Energy Project, which includes misleading the public by saying Navajos oppose it and failing to mention it is the cleanest coal plant the EPA has ever evaluated, or that its twin is being built right now in Duisburg, Germany, one of the greenest countries in Europe.”

“With overwhelming support, the Navajo Nation Council granted the Desert Rock project all of the permits it needs,” President Shirley said. “Navajos are eager to go to work there. One thousand jobs would be created to build it, and 400 permanent plant and mining jobs would be created to operate it. It would be a huge benefit to the Navajo people and Navajo Nation. But our greatest opposition comes from environmentalists and the outside groups that silently support them. Unfortunately, many of these people don’t know about Navajos, sovereignty or self-determination. They just want any use of coal stopped. However, coal is the Navajo Nation’s most plentiful resource, and our prosperity depends on it.”

“The independence of the Navajo Nation is dependent on our financial independence, and our financial independence rests largely with the development of Desert Rock,” President Shirley said. “Almost on a daily basis, our people die as a result of poverty which manifests as social problems like alcoholism, drunk driving, drug abuse, child neglect, child abuse, domestic violence, divorce, teen pregnancy, gangs, and lethal violence. Poverty on Navajoland is rampant and one does not have far to look to see it. The solution is employment so our people can put a better roof over their heads, food on the table, shoes on little feet, improve the quality of their lives, and so our families can know the pride that comes from providing for their families now, not sometime in the distant future.”

# # #

George Hardeen, Communications Director
Office of the President & Vice President
The Navajo Nation
DESK 928 871 7917
CELL 928 309 8532

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