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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


April 6, 2002 - Issue 58


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Students Take Water Cause to Washington


Black MesaA group of Native American students from the Navajo and Hopi reservations are fired up over water.

Earlier this month, they took their enthusiasm to Washington, D.C., where they educated their peers from all over the country about water issues on northern Arizona tribal lands and got to meet with four top officials in the Interior Department.

"There was one from Pinon, Forest Lake, Shonto, Kykotsmovi, we all drove down in my truck, packed with all our stuff and flew out of Phoenix," said Enei Begay.

Begay is working on a bachelor of science in geological and environmental science at Stanford University in California. She has two classes to finish, and they aren't offered until the fall semester. So she's spent the spring working with the Black Mesa Water Coalition, a Northern Arizona University student group.

She and her travel partners paid for their trip with a grant from the Sierra Club's Sierra Student Coalition, based in Washington, D.C. Their annual Public Lands Action Summit is offered there every spring.

"I've been working with them for a while," Begay said. "They are wanting to get more people of color involved in the organization. This is an annual summit on public lands. This year, there were the most people of color I've ever seen."

For three days, conference attendees took part in seminars and discussions about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and lands in the Rockies, "but they also gave students a chance to talk about local concerns," Begay said.

"When the rest of the students heard what was happening on Black Mesa, they were so amazed that something like this was still happening. A lot of these kids are coming from real different backgrounds. They started to write letters right there to Gale Norton. They wanted to storm the Department of Interior right then."

Begay said she and her fellow northern Arizonans told their peers Peabody is pumping more than 4,000 acre-feet a year from the aquifer under the Navajo and Hopi reservations, "50 gallons with every breath we take, how we've seen the springs dry up, how farmers in the area, their crops are failing, just the fact that this pristine water is being used to mix with coal and we never see that water again."

Begay was referring to the country's only coal slurry pipeline, which uses water to shunt coal to the Mojave Generating Station in Nevada. Scientists have long been at odds over Peabody's true effects on the aquifer. Peabody maintains it is causing no harm to the aquifer; scientists with the Natural Resources Defense Council counter that wells in the area have dropped as much as 100 feet since Peabody began pumping from the aquifer in the 1960s.

Begay and the other national students chanted and toted handmade signs while they marched to the Department of Interior the first day of the conference, but weren't granted access.

"The report we got the next day was that people could hear us talking throughout the building," Begay said. "There were reports that Gale Norton was standing at the balcony. That was really a powerful thing, I think. Someone finally came down and took our letters."

And after that, she said, officials within the department began returning her calls.

The following day, Begay and the others had sit-down meetings with four of Norton's staff members: Director of Trust Responsibilities Terry Verdon, Environmental Specialist Vijai Rai, Policy Analyst Indur Goklang, and an office attorney named Stephan Simpson.

"They knew about the issues," she said. "Our job really was to ... just give them a sense of how important the issue is to people. What we're asking from Norton is for her to fulfill her trust responsibilities."

As part of that responsibility, the Department is charged with approving and overseeing lease agreements between tribes and energy companies. Begay said Norton's staff members told the students they should keep in touch about the Black Mesa water issue.

Black Mesa, AZ Map

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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