[Marxism] Northern Arizona Tribal Leaders Sharply Critical of Some Environmental Groups

Hunter Gray hunterbadbear at hunterbear.org
Thu Oct 1 11:34:13 MDT 2009

NOTE BY HUNTER BEAR: October 1 2009

I frequently stand with the environmentalists -- e.g.,preservation of wolves and grizzly bears and opposition to uranium and much more -- but I certainly don't stand with them on these southwestern Native resource development issues.

Economic destitution and privation on almost all Native reservations in this country have been chronic since -- and I say this with sarcasm -- "the West was won." Corporations, generally with Federal support, have traditionally pillaged Native lands and resources. This exploitative process has slowed -- thanks primarily to rapidly increasing Native self-determination -- reflected grudgingly by the Department of Interior,. And that self-determination also includes increasing efforts to launch and carry tribally owned and controlled -- and critically needed -- economic development projects. That, in turn, has often pitted Native nations against outside environmentalists -- as in the current issue of the proposed and developing Navajo coal gassification project. [These aren't cases of tribes "seeking a dollar at whatever cost to lands and people." All tribes with even the remotest relationship to uranium -- now much in demand globally -- have slammed and locked the door on That Evil. And, on numerous other "development fronts," tribes have proceeded with great care, frequently turning thumbs-down if the environmental price is heavy. This attached article from USA Today indicates the Native vs some environmentalists controversy. But first, for a little context, here is something I wrote last August 3 2009.

"Minerals, natural resources generally, and attendant issues such as development and who or what does such, have been on-going controversies on many reservations for a very long time indeed. The role of outside corporations has been obviously exploitive and, even relatively recent reforms in the BIA/Interior lease and related arrangements -- e.g., the mandating of tribal approval in contrast to the old Federal/corporations unilateral Indians-be-damned approach -- hasn't ended a plethora of often hot, on-going issues. The companies may have felt they'd won re avoidance of responsibility for past royalty injustices when USSC ruled for Peabody Coal last spring -- but even that specific case has closely associated collateral dimensions that remain as very active issues. And much more litigation is afoot or planned on many fronts at Navajo -- and on other Indian lands as well.

And, of course, many traditionalists oppose most or any natural resource development on their Native lands.

For years, there has been the very worthy goal of moving BIA from corporate-sensitive Interior and giving it its own cabinet status -- and thus removing it from at least some corporate pressure. But, since the Indian New Deal era -- FDR and John Collier -- the highly necessary and thoroughly commendable call for tribally-owned and tribally-controlled economic development has been consistent and growing in virtually every reservation setting, large or small. The rapid growth of Indian casinos certainly reflects this. Even long before that phenomenon emerged and flew to the Four Directions a generation ago, a number of tribes -- including the Navajo -- had been doing some very productive work in the context of tribal economic development . But it's never been easy for the Indian nations to secure the funding necessary to launch and carry really larger scale tribal enterprises. Often, to accomplish this, outside fiscal forces become formally involved.

The proposed Navajo coal gasification plant in northwestern New Mexico -- co-owned by Navajo Nation and an outside corporation -- is a big step toward an old goal. It carries the plus of several hundred Indian jobs -- and considerable money for the Nation. On the other hand, there'll be inevitable environmental damage and other possible dangers and the relocation of a number of Navajo families -- now reluctant to do so -- from their traditional individual settings. One would hope -- and I would definitely assume -- that if this project does go forward, the Navajo Nation will sensitively and constructively and effectively address all of those concerns."

Hunter [Hunter Bear] August 3 2009

[See for uranium issues at Navajoland:  http://www.hunterbear.org/a_native_rights_sampling.htm  ]

By Dennis Wagner, USA TODAY October 1 2009
PHOENIX - The president of the Navajo Nation joined other Native American leaders this week in assailing environmentalists who have sought to block or shut down coal-fired power plants that provide vital jobs and revenue to tribes in northern Arizona.
"These are individuals and groups who claim to have put the welfare of fish and insects above the survival of the Navajo people when in fact their only goal is to stop the use of coal in the U.S. and the Navajo Nation," said Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr., who presides over America's largest Indian reservation, which sprawls over three states and claims a population of about 250,000.

Shirley's remarks came Wednesday after 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 spokeswoman for the Hopi Nation's Tribal Council, said leaders unanimously adopted a resolution declaring that the conservation groups are unwelcome because they have damaged the tribe's economy by pushing to close the Navajo Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant near Page, Ariz., that produces electricity distributed by providers in Arizona, California and Nevada.

Andy Bessler, Sierra Club representative in the Southwest, expressed dismay at the resolution and noted that another tribal group, Hopis Organized for Political Initiative, supports environmental efforts.

"We work with anybody who wants to help protect the environment, stop global warming and transition our economy to a clean economy," Bessler told the Associated Press. "We don't discriminate, and we'll continue to honor the invitations we get from Hopi and Navajo communities to work with them."

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

Tribes frequently partner with conservationists to protect resources and sacred sites, said Jerry Pardilla, executive director of the National Tribal Environmental Council. However, he added, with 564 diverse tribes, there are times when they get crosswise with the green movement.

Families depend on mines 

Environmentalists have long campaigned against coal as an energy source, but the Navajo and Hopi say they depend on such revenue.

This spring, the Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and some Native American groups called on the Environmental Protection Agency to study the Navajo Generating Station's role in causing smog over the Grand Canyon.

Stephanie Kodish, clean air counsel for the NPCA, complained at the time that the power plant is a source of "excessive pollution."

The Navajo Generating Station, operated by Phoenix-based Salt River Project, began producing electricity in 1974. It originally cost about $650 million, and $420 million more was spent in the 1990s to deal with pollution concerns. The generating station and a reservation coal mine now support hundreds of families, providing more than 70% of the Hopi Nation's governmental revenue, said Scott Canty, tribal counsel.

Nuvamsa, who resigned as Hopi chairman last year amid political infighting, scoffed at the council's resolution.

"This group here (the tribal council) has done so much to damage our tribal reputation and to violate our civil rights," he said. "As tribal members, we are all environmentalists because we're supposed to take care of Mother Earth."

Canty said closure of the plant would be devastating for Hopis.

"The tribe would essentially be penniless," he said.

Shutdown cost millions 

Environmental campaigns such as the one surrounding the Navajo Generating Station have succeeded in the past.

Environmentalists successfully closed the Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin, Nev., in December 2005 after a pollution lawsuit.

That shutdown cost the tribe more than $6.5 million per year, according to May, and closure of the Navajo Generating Station would wipe out another $11 million.

Shirley's statement of solidarity with his neighboring Hopi tribe ripped environmentalists for fighting development of Desert Rock Energy Project. This is a $2.5 billion proposed coal-fired power facility that Shirley described as "the most important economic development project in our nation's history."

Nada Talayumptewa, chairwoman of the council's energy team, said, "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."

The Sierra Club's Bessler said, "We need to do something about global warming, and coal is the greatest threat."

Wagner reports for The Arizona Republic

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