Navajo Organization Responds to Navajo Nation President's Chastisement of "Environmental" Groups

For immediate release: Friday October 2nd, 2009
Contact: Wahleah Johns, (928) 637-5281
Enei Begaye, (928) 380-6296

Black Mesa Water Coalition (BMWC) is an Indigenous non-governmental organization that is dedicated to preserving and protecting Mother Earth and the integrity of Indigenous Peoples' cultures, with the vision of building sustainable and healthy communities. BMWC strives to empower young people while building sustainable communities.
 "We are troubled by the recent statements of the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley.  They demonstrate a disregard for the real concerns of Navajo and Hopi people about coal development which is harmful to the the land, water and all forms of life," said Enei Begaye, a Navajo citizen and Co-Director of the Black Mesa Water Coalition.
 "We believe that President Shirley is misinformed as to the benefits of coal mining and coal-fired power plants and out of touch with the kind of economy the Navajo people want," said Wahleah Johns, also a Navajo citizen and Co-Director of Black Mesa Water Coalition.  "Our organization has been working to support the traditional lifeways of weavers, ranchers, artisans and a new clean energy economy.  After over 30 years of coal development on the Navajo reservation, most of our people still live below the national poverty line, and now there are increasing health problems due to fossil fuel development pollution and global warming."
    In July of 2009, the Navajo Nation 21st Council officially adopted the Navajo Green Economy Commission and Fund to begin a process of diversifying the Navajo economy and building thousands of well-paying Navajo jobs that do not pollute.  The Black Mesa Water Coalition formed the Navajo Green Economy Coalition, consisting of both Native and non-native organizations and individuals.  This Coalition's partnership with the Navajo Nation's Speaker of the Council, Lawrence T. Morgan, was a large contributor to the successful establishment of a Navajo Green Economy plan and is a model for how tribal governments and tribal citizen's groups can work together.  
 "Despite our collaborative successes it comes as a shocking blow to hear our elected President condemn Navajo citizens who have opposing views to coal development as 'the greatest threat to tribal sovereignty, tribal self-determination, and our quest for independence'," states Begaye, "We strongly believe in tribal sovereignty and self-determination. As Navajo citizens, it is our duty to voice concerns about the actions of our government, and we will continue to hold our elected leaders accountable.  The President's statement is a stinging insult and threat to all Navajo citizens who don't align their opinions with corporate values or President Shirley's energy agenda."  

"We regret the loss of jobs for our people from the closure of the Black Mesa coal mine," says Begaye, "However, more than money has been lost in the past four decades from mining operations in our backyards.  Our communities, our grandparents, our children and grandchildren have sacrificed our sole source of drinking water, the air we breathe, and a chance to put food on the table for our families without having to tear apart our sacred relationship with the earth."     

"Governments have ignored the social, cultural and human right impacts created by Peabody Coal Company's legacy on Black Mesa which has been producing unsustainable energy for the entire southwestern United States" states Johns.  In 1974, the U.S. government passed the 1974 Relocation Act which forcibly removed over 10,000 Navajos from their homes on Black Mesa to make way for coal mining.  For over 30 years Peabody Energy used an annual average of 4,700 acre feet of water from the Navajo-Aquifer, the sole-source of drinking water for Navajo and Hopi communities in the Black Mesa region, to transport coal through a 273 mile pipeline to the Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin, Nevada that fueled the electric grid for Southern California. Currently, in the area of the proposed Desert Rock power plant in New Mexico, there are already two existing coal-fired power plants impacting Navajo and non-native community air quality.  "Today these issues go unresolved, and yet big energy companies like Peabody Coal Company, Sithe Global and Salt River Project get away with exploiting our lands and resources for their billion dollar profit", states Johns, "and when these companies leave our lands, our communities are left to deal with the irreversable damage of mining."  

 "As a young Navajo person, it's crucial to dig deep into our history to understand how today's reality on the reservation is connected to past United States policies of colonization and assimilation especially in regards to energy development," states Nikke Alex (Navajo), a recent University of Arizona graduate, "More and more Native young people are voicing their concerns about decisions being made today that will impact our future."  

"Black Mesa Water Coalition is Navajo citizens who want healthy communities and who oppose the Desert Rock power plant and further coal development!" states Begaye, "Our stances have been formulated not from 'outside environmental' groups, but from our elders and our experiences.  Our positions have been shaped from ceremony and from long standing traditional directives to care for All Living Beings, because we are all tied together in survival."  

"It's important for people to know that Native grassroots people are in the leadership of tribal issues on and around tribal lands," says Alex, Youth Organizer with BMWC, "and we greatly appreciate the non-native individuals and environmental organizations that have respected and supported our leadership as a Navajo grassroots organization."

"The individuals we've worked with from the Sierra Club, NRDC, and the Grand Canyon Trust have respected our leadership, in fact many of these individuals are Native themselves," says Begaye, "However, we do want to push the national environmental organizations to do more to respect Native grassroots effort and to follow the leadership of directly affected, 'frontline' communities.  We eagerly await the call from Carl Pope, Sierra Club's Executive Director, to sit down and talk."   

posted by: Somebody @ 4:01am