11/20/2012 11:33:00 AM Secretary of Interior Salazar holds water rights settlement meeting with Navajo and Hopi leaders Hopi Chairman Shingoitewa and Navajo Speaker Naize both say meeting was a positive step forward
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar met with Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation leaders in Washington, D.C. Nov. 15 to discuss a potential Little Colorado River water settlement under Congressional review. This is the first time that leaders of the two tribes have joined with Salazar to address the shared water issue.
"I thank the Navajo and Hopi leadership for participating in today's historic discussions, and for the decades of work that they have put into solving this issue," Salazar said. "We had an extremely meaningful dialogue today that I believe will lay the groundwork for a fair and mutually beneficial agreement that the two tribes, the United States, and the state parties can agree upon. I deeply respect the sovereignty of the Hopi Tribe and the Navajo Nation and know that, for any water settlement to be successful, the tribes must be fully committed to it. It is my hope that over the coming days and weeks that we may work together to finalize the details of a settlement that will deliver critical water, infrastructure and economic development to the Navajo and Hopi people."
While there has been general agreement on key aspects of a proposed Little Colorado River water settlement, including the potential investment of nearly $360 million to pay for construction of major water delivery systems on the Hopi Reservation and the Arizona side of the Navajo Reservation, both tribes have expressed serious concerns about various aspects of the proposed settlement.
Navajo lawmakers voted July 5 to reject the agreement and Senate Bill 2109, endorsed by Sen. John McCain and Sen. Jon Kyle. On June 21, the Hopi Tribal Council narrowly approved the settlement but voted down Kyl's bill. The settlement required the approval of both tribes to move forward.
"Today's historic meeting provided the Hopi Nation with an opportunity to identify outstanding issues that need to be resolved before a settlement can move forward," said Chairman
Leroy Shingoitewa of the Hopi Nation. "Because of the high level involvement of our leadership, the Navajo leadership, and Secretary Salazar and his team, I believe that we can and should move forward."
Navajo Nation Speaker Johnny Naize said negotiations moved forward during the meeting.
"We made practical progress today, thanks to Secretary Salazar's personal involvement and commitment, to open possibilities for our nation to convert 'paper' water rights into 'wet' water that our people need and deserve," said Naize.
Salazar met with officials from both tribes during a visit to Arizona last month and invited representatives to the meeting. Salazar also invited Sen. Jon Kyl to the opening session today because of his role in working toward a settlement of the long-standing Little Colorado River water rights claims. Any settlement would have to be enacted by Congress.
"The Obama Administration has reenergized the federal government's commitment to resolve Indian water rights and to provide settlements that truly benefit Indian tribes," said Deputy Secretary of the Interior David J. Hayes. "We appreciate the candor and seriousness with which both tribes approached today's discussions, and we look forward to continuing this critical conversation in the near future."
Since 2009, the Obama Administration has enacted six water settlements, totaling more than $2 billion. The settlements provide permanent water supplies and offer economic security. The settlements include the Taos Pueblo and Aamodt case pueblos, including the Pojoaque, Tesuque, San Ildefonso and Nambe pueblos in New Mexico, as well as the Crow Tribe of Montana, the White Mountain Apache Tribe in Arizona, the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, and the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes in Nevada.