Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights 2020

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Hopi Chairman Ben Nuvamsa takes lead to halt Peabody

Photo 1: Hopi Chairman Ben Nuvamsa in Denver protest. Photo 2: Kevin Nash, Hopi, tells OSM officials about how their decision on the "Black Mesa Project" will tear apart every aspect of his life ad his peoples' lives far into the future. Elder Anna Silas, Hopi, listens near by, while Hopi Tribal Chairman Ben Nuvamsa (seated) supports Racheal Povatah, Hopi. Photo 3: Denver banner. Courtesy photos.

Hopi and Navajo united in Denver to halt Peabody's genocide and desecration

By Brenda Norrell
Censored News

DENVER -- Hopis and Navajos spoke out in solidarity to oppose a new life-of-mine permit on Black Mesa for the longstanding genocidal corporation Peabody Coal. Speaking out during a panel on Dec. 7 and then protesting outside the Office of Surface Mining in downtown Denver on Dec. 8, Hopi and Navajo said their water is too precious to be used again for water slurry.

Navajo and Hopi are opposing the permit for Peabody Coal, which would extract enormous amounts of aquifer water and could mean more forced relocation of Navajos.

A delegation of 35 Navajo and Hopi tribal members, including Hopi Tribal Chairman Ben Nuvamsa, met with the U.S. Office of Surface Mining at their Denver headquarters in hopes of delaying OSM's Record of Decision until the next Presidential Administration takes office.

The Record of Decision is the final stage of the permitting process for the proposed "Black Mesa Project," which would grant Peabody Coal Company a life-of-mine" permit-- expanded mining operations and rights to tap the fresh water of the Navajo aquifer.

For three hours the Navajo and Hopi representatives met with OSM officials and presented documents and petitions ratified by their communities that urge OSM to suspend their decision, the Hopi and Navajo delegation said in a statement.

Their unified statement read, "Although we represent two different tribes, we come today united to protect our shared land and water. Water is the life source to both our peoples, and Peabody has failed to understand this connection. If the Office of Surface Mining grants a permit to Peabody, our way of life and spiritual balance will be severely disrupted and altered. Currently, we are already suffering the damage this industry has caused over the past 30 years. We believe OSM has been negligent in fulfilling the NEPA process, and if OSM issues a Record of Decision, that would be a breach of the Federal Trust Responsibility. United we ask the Office of Surface Mining to stop the Record of Decision process."

OSM Western Regional Director Al Klein stated, "The Environmental Impact Statement process is finalized, the decision before us is very minor, and we are on track to release it on Dec. 15."

The tribal representatives expressed the weight of this decision and that it is not a "minor" decision. They also gave testimony to the many aspects of their life, culture, and spirituality that would be severely impacted if the project was approved. Gordon Isaac, a Navajo tribal member and veteran of the Gulf War told the officials, "Peabody is not just digging into topsoil. They are tearing into people's lifeways."

While most of the delegation was inside meeting with OSM officials, 60 local supporters accompanied the rest of the Navajo and Hopi delegation outside to rally, protest, and show support, including dropping a 10ft by 16ft banner from a nearby parking garage that read, "Navajo & Hopi Say NO COAL MINING!" Support was not only outside of the building. OSM's telephone and fax lines were bombarded with calls of support and written requests to postpone the ROD from across the country.

After listening to three hours of emotional testimony, OSM was asked if they would simply consider suspending the record of decision. Director Klein replied, "We have a set of regulations, and when a company puts on paper in their application how they will fulfill the requirements, we do not have discretion. We have to grant them a permit ... At this point we will not be changing the calender of events on this decision."

This decision comes in the midst of Hopi political turmoil. Chairman Nuvamsa came to represent the Hopi and Tewa people in the battle to protect the water and lands from further coal mining in Black Mesa, AZ. "Due to lack of representation on the Hopi Tribal Council, the Village of Tewa was never afforded the opportunity to participate in any discussion of the Draft EIS as it applies to Hopi people and land," stated Chairman Nuvamsa.

"Hopis believe that this time of year is a very sacred and sensitive time that prevents us from stepping outside our home area, because it's the time of renewal for all life. We are taught not to be disruptive and confrontational during this time. It is such a big sacrifice for us to be here in Denver, but OSM continues to release critical decisions during this time; so many of our people have not been able to to voice their grave concerns about this Black Mesa Project. We feel an obligation to our families, clans, and future, so we have come here despite our cultural restrictions." says Racheal Povatah, a Hopi tribal member.

Speaking on a panel before the protest on Sunday, Wahleah Johns, Navajo from Forest Lake, Arizona, with the Black Mesa Water Coalition, said she comes from the area, close to the Peabody Coal operations. Read about it, and listen to Johns, John and Leonard Benally of Big Mountain at:

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