Hopi Forgo Gaming to Preserve Way of Life

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The Hopi Tribe has always looked to traditional beliefs and practices to
guide their lives. What is known as the Hopi way is a tradition of living
based on cultural beliefs and prophecies that shape every aspect of Hopi
life.

A peaceful people who believe in living in balance with nature, 7,000 Hopi
reside on a sprawling, sparse and desolate 1.3 million acres in Northern
Arizona, their chosen homeland since before 1100 A.D.

Many Hopi still live as their ancestors did, planting and harvesting small
crops of corn, beans and squash and participating in ancient rituals and
ceremonies intended to bring peace and prosperity.

Humble and unassuming, most of the Hopi, particularly those in the more
traditional villages of Old Oraibi, Walpi and Lower Moencopi, shun
excessive wealth and material possessions. It is not the Hopi way.

So it came as only a mild surprise last May that the Hopi voted
overwhelmingly against operating a tribal government casino as a means of
generating economic development, despite the fact jobs on the reservation
are scarce and most Hopi live below the poverty level.

Gambling runs contrary to Hopi religious beliefs and customs, said tribal
spokeswoman Vanessa Charles. "They fear gambling would destroy the fabric
of Hopi culture," she said, "and bring irreparable harm to its religious
practices."

Government gaming has proven to be an effective tool for creating jobs and
economic development in Indian country. But the Hopi also were aware that
operating a casino would require the tribe to enter into a compact with the
state of Arizona, which they perceived as a major concession to their
sovereignty.

"Nothing is more important to the Hopi than sovereignty and the Hopi way of
life," Tribal Chairman Wayne Taylor Jr. said. "Nothing."

The decision to forgo gambling was compelling and significant if for no
other reason than the fact the Hopi is one of the more revered and
respected tribes in the country.

"Other tribes look to Hopi to set an example of how Indian nations should
conduct themselves," said Jacob Coin, a member of the Hopi Tribe and
executive director of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association.
"The vote sent the message that while gaming and economic growth is
important, it pales in significance to the need to protect tribal
sovereignty, strengthen tribal governments and preserve Native traditions
and the Indian way of life."

'THE SITUATION IS DIRE'

With gambling no longer in the equation, the Hopi tribal council is
urgently seeking means to create jobs, generate economic development,
provide adequate housing and eliminate reservation poverty.

The first priority, however, is to avert the potential shutdown of the
Black Mesa Coal Co., operated by Peabody Energy, and its sole customer, the
Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin, Nev., a huge power plant supplying
low-cost energy to growing markets in Southern California, Nevada and
Arizona.

Black Mesa, located on land jointly owned by the Hopi and Navajo Indian
nations, generates about $7.7 million a year in royalties to the Hopi,
about a third of the tribal budget; money used to provide such essential
services as education for Hopi children and health care for the elderly.

Peabody is being forced by the Hopi and Navajo nations to stop using the
Navajo Aquifer to slurry coal to the Mohave facility, claiming the
operation is draining the tribes' only source of drinking water.

Meanwhile, Southern California Edison, majority owner and manager of the
plant, is contemplating closing the facility rather than installing $1.1
billion in emission control systems mandated by a federal court order to
reduce smog over the nearby Grand Canyon.

"It has always been the Hopi way to maintain stewardship over the land,
protecting and preserving our vast and precious resources," Taylor said.
"No resource is more important to the future vitality of the Hopi homeland
than water. The aquifer feeds the washes and springs that nourish Hopi and
Navajo lands. It generates water we depend on for drinking and spiritual
and ceremonial purposes. The aquifer is as important to the Hopi way of
life as the blood that runs through our veins.

"But while it is imperative that Peabody stop using water from the N
Aquifer," Taylor said, "the continued operation of Black Mesa and the
Mohave Generating Station is of the greatest importance to the continued
social and economic well being of the Hopi Tribe. Closure of the Mohave
plant will have a devastating impact on the Hopi government's budget. The
situation is dire."

The Hopi and Navajo nations and Peabody are asking the California Public
Utilities Commission to grant Edison the necessary permits to install the
emission controls and continue operations beyond 2005. The Hopi also are
asking Peabody and plant owners to construct a pipeline from the Coconino
Aquifer near Flagstaff to provide the water needed to slurry Black Mesa
coal to the plant.

Hydrologists and energy experts hired by the tribes told the commission
that even if the costs of the pipeline and emission controls were passed on
to Mohave ratepayers, the price of energy would still be much lower than
energy purchased from a power plant using natural gas.

"The savings to ratepayers served by coal-fired operations at the Mohave
Generating Station would be approximately $1.4 billion," Rose told the
commission.

Taylor is also asking the federal government to provide additional money to
expand the C Aquifer pipeline so it can provide additional water to the
Hopi and Navajo nations for future economic development.

The Hopi tribal council has an aggressive plan to build a diversified
economy on the reservation. The strategy includes completion of the C
Aquifer pipeline, construction of the Turquoise Trail - a road project
linking the reservation with Northern Arizona - and development of Tawaovi,
a planned community of homes, commercial development and government office
buildings.

"We are working hard to find ways to bring economic development to the Hopi
Tribe," Taylor said. "We are working to build our communities and to
develop opportunities for our children that are founded in economic
security. We are not interested in quick fixes. Like all Americans, we want
a future that is both bright and sustainable."

Unfortunately, the Hopi reservation is lacking a basic infrastructure of
water and sewer systems, roads and utilities. Taylor believes the federal
government needs to be reminded of its trust responsibility to tribes and
help out with necessary funding for the pipeline, Turquoise Trail and
Tawaovi.

"The federal government should not allow basic needs to go unmet," Taylor
said. "We should not wait for a catastrophe before there is some action.
After 200 years, it's time our federal government trustee steps up to its
responsibilities.

"We are not asking for a handout," Taylor said. "We are asking for a
helping hand."

Dave Palermo is a special assistant to the Hopi Tribe and a freelance
writer. He can be reached at dgpalermo@aol.com.