A front-end loader dumps coal into a hauler Oct. 9 at the Navajo Mine. The Shiprock Chapter on Sunday voted to oppose a waiver of all liabilities that the
A front-end loader dumps coal into a hauler Oct. 9 at the Navajo Mine. The Shiprock Chapter on Sunday voted to oppose a waiver of all liabilities that the Navajo Nation Council granted BHP Billiton for the mine's purchase. (The Daily Times file photo)

Shiprock — The Navajo Nation and BHP Billiton have signed a purchase agreement for Navajo Mine, but that did not stop Shiprock Chapter from opposing the waiver of all liabilities granted to the coal company.

On Sunday, 54 members of the chapter voted to support a chapter resolution stating an objection to the Navajo Nation Council's approval to waive all past, present and future claims, demands, damages, indebtedness, liabilities, obligations, costs, expenses and actions for BHP Billiton.

The council approved the waiver during the fall session last month. The tribe and the coal company signed a purchase agreement for the mine on Oct. 31.

"The Shiprock Chapter membership hereby declares its unequivocal objection to the Navajo Nation Council approval to grant BHP Mines a waiver of all liability in the BHP Mine Purchase by the Navajo Nation," the resolution states.

Chapter president Duane "Chili" Yazzie said everyone understands BHP Billiton and the Navajo Transitional Energy Company, LLC have signed the mine purchase agreement, but chapter members still want to "make a statement, to say we are concern with this waiver."

Chapter members made comments about the resolution before the vote.

Chapter member Sammy Ahkeah spoke about the mine's environmental effects on the land. He told a story about a woman who lives near the mine. He said that when she dusts her furniture, the cloth she uses collects black dust.

"It goes inside the house. The furniture surface is black," he said. "It goes inside the cupboards, where the food is kept. That's what I'm concerned about."

Ahkeah also reminded chapter members that the purchase agreement is not finalized until the U.S. Department of the Interior, through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, signs its approval.

JC Allen lives about two miles from Navajo Mine in Nenahnezad Chapter.

He attended Sunday's meeting because he opposes the mine purchase and questioned why tribal leaders did not ask the people to vote on the purchase.

"The reason I'm here is because Shiprock would listen to me," he said.

Shiprock Chapter member Bernadette Todacheene said when people buy cars they examine the agreement before signing it, but that opportunity was not given to the Navajo people before the mine purchase agreement was signed.

"I think we, as a chapter, (have) a voice. We can still state our opinion," Todacheene said, adding that tribal leaders did not come to the chapter to hear what residents had to say.

Right before the chapter members voted, Eva B. Stokely, another Shiprock Chapter member, asked to delay the vote to clarify and check the resolution for errors. The residents declined her suggestion.

Shiprock is the only chapter to issue a resolution that opposes the waiver of liability.

Other chapters have issued resolutions supporting the mine purchase, including Nenahnezad, San Juan, Tse Daa Kaan and Upper Fruitland.

So far, Sanostee Chapter is the only one to oppose the purchase.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636. nsmith@daily-times.com Follow her @nsmithdt on Twitter.