WINDOW ROCK, ARIZ. — Leaders from the chapter level to the Navajo Nation Council gathered Friday to answer questions from the Navajo people about energy development and government polices.
The inquiries were raised during the "Diné Bóhólníí ála' a lei: Restoring Communication and Understanding within Our Nation" forum at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Ariz.
The forum was presented by Meeting of Diné Minds, a collective that has sponsored the forums across the Navajo Nation to generate dialogue between the public and tribal leaders.
Janene Yazzie, who helped organize the event, said there are a lot of politics on the Navajo Nation, and, sometimes, the people's voice gets lost. One way to fix that is to promote conversation between the people and politicians, she said.
"We are all relatives, it doesn't matter what our politics are," Yazzie said.
During the morning panel discussion, attendees submitted questions for Navajo Nation Council Delegates Russell Begaye, Lorenzo Curley and Leonard Tsosie and former President Milton Bluehouse and Becenti Chapter Vice President Jonathan Perry.
Among the topics addressed was the waiver of all past, present and future liabilities given to BHP Billiton for Navajo Mine. The Navajo Nation Council approved the waivers last year.
In Bluehouse's comments, he questioned whether it was fair for one entity, in this case the tribal council, to decide such matters.
"The real concern behind all this development of these resources on Navajo (land) is this: who has a right to waive?" Bluehouse said. "Is it the people out there or is it the Navajo Nation Council?"
The challenge, he said, is examining Navajo law to see if it is right.
Uranium mining was another issue that generated questions. Leaders were asked why a uranium mining project was approved for New Mexico's Church Rock, despite tribal laws prohibiting uranium mining and processing and transporting the element on highways and roads on tribal lands.
Perry said uranium has affected members of his chapter, and more studies are needed to assess its effect on the health of Navajos who worked with uranium or who live near abandoned mining operations.
As for new uranium mining, he said Navajo communities still lack adequate response services should another event occur like the 1979 Church Rock uranium spill. That spill caused tons of uranium to flow into the Rio Puerco, which travels through Gallup.
Curley, who represents the Arizona chapters of Houck, Klagetoh, Lupton, Nahata Dziil and Wide Ruins, said members of those chapters continue to voice concern about the effects of uranium. He said his constituents also tell him that activities involving uranium should not be allowed.
"That is sufficient enough for me not to support uranium efforts," Curley said.
Discussion on Friday also steered toward the public's input when legislation involving water rights and energy development is proposed to the council.
After the 24-member council took office in 2011, the delegates approved a law that mandates proposed legislation be posted on the council's website for review by the public. One problem, though, is supporting documents are not attached to proposed legislation, and not every Navajo owns a computer or has access to the Internet.
Despite those issues, the process was not available six years ago, Tsosie said.
Begaye noted the council attempted to strengthen the law by amending it to state that both the bills and any attachments are available to the people for review. But that amendment was vetoed by President Ben Shelly, Begaye said.Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nsmithdt on Twitter.