Village leaders speak out

FIRST MESA, Ariz. – Four traditional leaders from the Walpi area have entered the running battle over who represents the Hopi Tribe in a conflict over coal mining at the Black Mesa Mine Complex in northern Arizona.

“The Hopi Tribe’s coal lease and permit revision do not adequately address Peabody’s use of the Hopi Tribe’s water,” states a letter to other Hopi traditional leaders (Sinom) and a tribal attorney.

“The long-term pumping and use of the Navajo aquifer by Peabody Western Coal Company is a primary concern of the Hopi Sinom,” it states.

The letter is the latest chapter in a conflict over the adequacy of Hopi representation in the Office of Surface Mining planning process, control of the Hopi coal resource, the potential impact of expanded mining operations, and the legal status of the tribal council.

“It is important to emphasize that the Hopi Sinom uphold a spiritual covenant that governs their relations with the natural world,” the letter states. “According to our Hopi customs and natural laws, irresponsible decisions to desecrate our sacred lands will have dire consequences for future generations.”

The traditional leaders’ letter asks Scott Canty, a Hopi tribal attorney, to hear their concerns directly by coming to First Mesa. He should “bring a legally executed contract or other documentation of his current appointment to the Office of General Counsel for the Hopi Tribe.”

The attorney “has not received the informed consent of the Hopi Sinom throughout all 12 villages to intervene in the matter of the Black Mesa Complex permit revision on behalf of the Hopi Tribe,” it states.

His standing to act for the tribe has been called into question by those who contend the tribe is operating without a legally constituted council under rules established by the elected chairman, who resigned Jan. 1.

Canty sent a letter to the Department of the Interior Office of Hearings and Appeals in May seeking to intervene in an appeal by environmental groups, Hopi tribal members and others seeking a hearing on OSM’s granting of the permit.

Canty said the current tribal council supports OSM’s action and is concerned about a loss of tribal income if the permit is not granted for potential mining expansion on 100 square miles of Hopi and Navajo lands.

The permit would allow Kayenta Mine’s supply of coal to the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona to continue, and the station could potentially use coal from additional resources in the Black Mesa Complex, including areas within the Hopi Lease portion.

If Canty agrees to come to First Mesa, he should be prepared to discuss his contention that the “Hopi Tribe participated fully in the administrative and environmental review process” conducted by OSM and that the agency “consulted extensively with the Hopi Tribe.”

The discussion should also identify each instance of the Hopi Tribe’s “active involvement throughout the National Environmental Policy Act process that produced the Draft and Final EIS documents upon which the (OSM’s) Record of Decision on the Permit was based,” the letter states.

Some permit opponents have questioned whether government-to-government consultation could be conducted with the tribal council in turmoil and whether those negotiating for the tribe with OSM were authorized to do so.

The two-year conflict among tribal leaders has led to the alleged formation of an ad hoc militia and has involved suspension of three judges of the Hopi Appeals Court.

The 12 Hopi villages combine Western and traditional governance and about one-third do not have representatives on the Western-modeled tribal council. Up to half the villages may at some point contest the current representation of tribal interests, sources said.

Copies of the undated letter were sent to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. An e-mailed version of the letter included signatures of James Tawayesva Sr., Harlan P. Nakala, Bill Mahle and Bill Preston.