As the Hopi Tribe moves toward its 2009 general election, there are many issues the Hopi and Tewa voters need to learn about and consider before casting their votes.
We have the worst tribal political corruption in Indian country, numerous civil rights violations and gross misuse of tribal funds under the current leadership that must be addressed and investigated. But I believe the most important and immediate issue facing the Hopi Tribe now is the decision by the Office of Surface Mining to issue a Life of Mine Permit to the Peabody Coal Company. The permit will have devastating long-term impacts on the Hopi Tribe so the new tribal administration must learn more about it and take a positive stand on behalf of the Hopi and Tewa people.
On Dec. 22, 2008, OSM issued a decision to issue a LOM Permit to Peabody for the Black Mesa Mine area that will commit our coal and water resources to Peabody for several generations to come. Many Hopi and Tewa (and Navajo) people objected and filed law suits against OSM. The oral arguments on this suit will be in March 2010.
Todd Honyaoma Sr., while he was vice chairman, signed a letter dated Feb. 5, 2007, saying the Hopi Tribe supports Alternative A of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Black Mesa Project. At that time, Alternative A provided for drilling wells in the Leupp area from the Coconino Aquifer (C-Aquifer) with provisions for tapping the Navajo Aquifer (N-Aquifer) and delivering the water through a pipeline to the Black Mesa area to slurry coal to the Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin, Nev. There was no tribal council resolution in place that supported Honyaoma’s claim.
And today, there is still no resolution in place that supports his claim, but OSM used that letter to move forward with its decision. The Hopi and Tewa people previously objected to the pumping of the N-Aquifer that eventually led to the stoppage of this pumping. It’s important to point out that Honyaoma signed this letter one day before the Feb. 6, 2007 general election. When Honyaoma signed this letter, he signed away the Hopi and Tewa people’s water and coal resources to the Peabody Coal Company for many generations to come. The tribe’s energy team and the Bush administration were in a hurry to approve the permit before the new administration took office.
On May 29, Scott Canty, the tribe’s general counsel, filed a Petition to Intervene in the Hopi-Tewa people’s lawsuit against OSM. He did this without authorization from the tribal council and against the wishes of tribal members. He said in his filing that the shutdown of NGS will have devastating impacts on revenues to the Hopi Tribe. He also labeled the Hopi and Tewa people who objected to OSM’s decision as “inadequate and improper” advocates. He claimed that only he and Joelynn Roberson, a tribal consultant, are the proper “decision makers” for the Hopi Tribe on this matter.
Those of us who object to the LOM Permit are not saying to shut down the NGS. What we are saying is the EIS is flawed and must be redone. We are also saying there is a better way to mine our coal and use our water – a better way that is friendly to the environment (to our land and to the air we breathe); a better way that will be in line with our Hopi and Tewa traditions, a better way that will maximize revenues to the Hopi Tribe; and a better way that will allow the Hopi Tribe to fully exercise its sovereignty.
We just learned – at the Water and Energy Forum sponsored by the Hopi Organizational Political Initiative – of the sad history surrounding the Black Mesa and the role of Peabody Coal Company, the Hopi Tribe’s attorney, and the federal government in exploiting our resources. I do not believe the Hopi and Tewa people want to repeat this sad history.
I ran for the office of tribal chairman in the 2007 Special Election and the Black Mesa-Peabody Coal issue was the cornerstone of my platform. I believe in transparency and accountability. I believe in preserving our culture and protecting our natural resources. I carried out these principles during my administration and informed and educated our people on these issues. But the career politicians, particularly those on the energy team and the tribe’s attorney, worked very hard to drive me out of office because of my position on this very important matter. Did they have something to hide?
I believe, as many other tribal members do, that the most important and immediate issue facing the Hopi Tribe is our coal and water resources. These resources are very important for our daily lives, our culture, our environment, our economy and future generations. I hope that everyone takes the time to learn more about this important issue and make an informed decision before voting.
I was pleased to see all four candidates attend the H.O.P.I. forum; their attendance indicates their interest in this important matter. Now, they must come out and tell the Hopi and Tewa people where they stand on the LOM Permit and what they will do to address it.
The outcome of the tribal primary election is a clear statement by the people that enough is enough, and that we must stop the reckless exploitation of our resources by our own people and tribal attorney.
Benjamin H. Nuvamsa is former chairman of the Hopi Tribe.