Saturday, October 3, 2009

Editorial: Environmental causes at odds with sovereignty

So I was wrong, and I laughed out loud.

The unnamed Courier editor did read the Nava-Hopi Observer piece after all. And while he didn't see fit to assign a word of news space to it, that his readers might have a few facts on hand, he jumped right in with his opinion -- one that goes no deeper than the skin of an apple, demonstrating again his disdain for research and disinterest in issues beyond what will make his preselected political point. It veers wildly beyond reason, as well, unless the editor can somehow show a mechanism for how the Sierra Club can "dictate" anything to the tribes. Federal courts, on the other hand ... but then the editor would be arguing against adherence to federal law.

There are a quite few facts missing from this hipshot, and it would be nice if the Courier kept its readers sufficiently abreast of developments to allow better informed opinion. The history of this goes back at least into the Nixon administration, and the overall problem has persisted since the discovery of coal on Hopi early last century.* It's a complex issue involving tribal economics, corporate hardball, inter- and intra-tribal politics, federal abuse and neglect, massive water and environmental degradation, religious issues, energy and development, and, of course, greed at the center of everything.

As recently as December, Dineh and Hopi groups were petitioning the feds for more environmental and other protections against Peabody and filing lawsuits. The editor's slapdash assumption that the people speaking for environmental issues are all rich white liberal outsiders is just wrong. The tribe's expulsion of environmental groups is not to enforce sovereignty by removing outsiders from the issue, that's the cover story. Rather, at least in large part, it is to silence internal dissent by cutting off access to publicity and legal resources.

The reader may wonder why we in Yavapai County should care. After all, they are duly elected tribal governments doing as they like with their own land, right? If only it were that simple. But bear in mind that federal and corporate interests created this issue in the first place and have fueled and manipulated it ever since. Bear in mind that the damage to water resources and the environment will not be confined by the reservation boundary. Bear in mind that the limited sovereignty of the reservation system does not in any way limit the rights of native citizens under the Constitution. Bear in mind that we also share state money with the tribes for education and other sensible purposes. Bear in mind that these are our neighbors, and this is our neighborhood.
*It used to be on Hopi, anyway. I remember clearly the first time I came through Arizona, in 1970, the maps showed the Hopi rez as a rectangle. It's shrunk quite a bit since then, in large part because of coal.