Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

May 2, 2012

Navajos testimony to UN Rapporteur: Housing and Water Rights

Forgotten People goes to the UN to secure
housing and water rights

Press statement by Forgotten People
Photo credit: Forgotten People
Censored News

TUCSON, Ariz. --  Mary Lane, Glenna C. Begay, Leta O’Daniel, Leonard Benally, Marlene Benally and Norris Nez of Forgotten People presented on Land and Resources, Self-Government and the Open Forum on the Rights of Indigenous People in Tucson.
A delegation of 14 members of Forgotten People met with the UN to call for recognition of the human right to housing and water. They urged the U.S. to pass legislation that abides by the declaration they signed in 2010, which establishes minimum basic rights for indigenous people globally including the U.S.

Forgotten People appreciates the significance of this historic mission by the United Nations to conduct an investigation into the plight of US Native Americans. Forgotten People believes greater investigation needs to be conducted into the lack of housing, poisoning of water sources, and neglect by the US government in our region to identify how the standards of the declaration are reflected in US law and policy and needed reforms and good practices.

A 43-year US government imposed Bennett Freeze affecting approximately 1,500,000 acres denied Navajo people electricity, running water and adequate sewage disposal. Even though the freeze was lifted by President Obama in 2009, they cannot find any funding or plan for rehabilitation for infrastructure, housing, water and roads.  Only 3% of the families have electricity.  Over 90% of the homes do not have access to piped water, requiring families to haul their water from other locations. Only 24 % of homes are habitable today. 

Since 1966, the population in the area has increased by approximately 65 percent, forcing several generations of families to live together in dwellings that have been declared unfit for human habitation.

A Relocation Act passed in 1974, resulted in the forced eviction of over 15,000 head of households and their families. Those that resisted relocation are under siege to this day by the US Department of the Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs using federal monies to confiscate livestock, bulldoze and dismantle water wells and deny people their civil and human rights. Due to a lack of infrastructure, families live in substandard homes, are forced to haul their own water, suffer negative economic and health impacts, are trapped in a circle of poverty and are still drinking contaminated water because they have no choice or have no water at all. 

The U.S. Department of Energy calls Navajo land a “National Sacrifice Area” in a region at the heart of the global warming issue. Black Mesa, Big Mountain is a microcosm of the global problem. The energy is produced on our lands using our resources, yet we receive no benefits from this activity. We suffer the local costs of this production, such as environmental damage and interference with sovereignty. In addition, our traditional lifestyle hangs at the edge of survival in an arid climate, and scientists predict that global warming will cause a permanent drought and dust bowl in the American Southwest, making this life impossible.

Wars of the future will be fought over water, as they are over oil today, as water, our Blue Gold, the source of human survival, enters the global marketplace.  Currently, President Ben Shelly of the Navajo Nation is working with Senator Kyl and McCain to pass legislation for the Little CO River Water Rights Settlement that gives away our water rights to Peabody Coal Company and NGS. Forgotten People believes the Settlement is a tragedy not only due to the minimizing Navajo rights but is waiving hundreds of millions of dollars in potential compensation for rights waived.

To compound the effects, the water rights settlement forever waives without redress for past present and future contamination of water sources when the U.S. EPA reports the presence of over 1,300 abandoned mines on reservation land and up to 25 % of the unregulated sources in the western Navajo Nation exceeds drinking water standard for kidney toxicants including uranium.

 Forgotten People believes the US should be held accountable under the declaration and to commitments made internationally which establish minimum basic rights for indigenous people, including UN General Assembly (GA) Resolutions on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation and a commitment by the U.S. EPA at the 2002 United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development to reduce the number of its citizens lacking access to safe drinking water and sanitation by 50% by 2015.

Forgotten People believes President Obama and Navajo Nation should sign a binding version of the declaration to ensure access to clean and potable water and housing as fundamental human rights and participation in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights under the declaration and international law.

Copies of Forgotten People’s interventions are available. For more information please contact Mary Lane, Vice-President, Forgotten People at (928) 401-1777 or via email:

Forgotten People

P.O. Box 1661

Tuba City, AZ 86045

(928) 401-1777


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