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Hopi lawmakers breathe new life into water deal with second vote

Hopi Chairman LeRoy Shingoitewa, shown in a January 2011 file photo, has generally expressed support for the water rights settlement pending in the Senate for the Hopi and Navajo people. (Cronkite News Service photo by Beth Easterbrook)

WASHINGTON – Hopi lawmakers gave new life Thursday to a congressional plan to settle the tribe’s water-rights claims in the Little Colorado River basin, apparently backtracking from a vote last week to reject the plan.

The tribal council voted 8-7 Thursday to work with Congress to pursue Hopi water rights and build pipelines to bring water to reservation communities, said Rebekah Masayesva, tribal council representative from the Kykotsmovi village.

It follows last Friday’s 11-4 council vote that rejected a bill by Arizona Sens. Jon Kyland John McCain that would build water supply systems to Navajo and Hopi communities in exchange for the tribes waiving their claims to the river water.

The bill still awaits a vote from Navajo Nation Council delegates, who are expected to take it up Wednesday, said Jared King, a government and legislative affairs specialist in the Nation’s Washington office. How the Navajo will vote is “still up in the air,” King said.

Kyl has said that the bill cannot move forward without approval from both the Hopi and Navajo tribes. Neither Kyl nor McCain could be reached to comment on the Hopi action Thursday.

Opposition to the bill began almost as soon as it was introduced, said former Hopi Chairman Vernon Masayesva. He said Kyl introduced the Little Colorado River settlement in the Senate before either tribe had the opportunity to present it to their people.

But Hopi Chairman LeRoy Shingoitewa has said the settlement would grant the Hopi and Navajo people much-needed water and has urged continued negotiations between the tribe and legislation.

While the settlement would provide much-needed water, Vernon Masayesva said, it would come at a cost – namely tribal traditions and beliefs.

He said last Friday’s vote was made after listening to public testimony in the 12 Hopi villages, where the Little Colorado River settlement was rejected by 10 of the 12 Hopi villages. Opponents said Thursday’s vote violates a resolution passed by the council Friday.

“By holding an additional meeting today, the chairman is trying to resuscitate a dying horse,” Vernon Masayesva said. “He still wants to sit with the federal negotiators and talk about the settlement like he is speaking for the people.”

Rebekah Masayesva said Shingoitewa cast the deciding vote Thursday. Shingoitewa was not available for comment after Thursday’s vote.

Vernon Masayesva said he fears the vote could be a turning point in how the tribe governs, and decisions as significant as the Little Colorado River settlement will be decided without first talking to the people.

“This is a good thing for us Hopis,” he said of the Thursday vote. “It’s another arrow we’re going to put in our quiver, cause we are going to fight this. If we have to take it to court, we will.”

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