By Marley Shebala
WINDOW ROCK, July 5, 2012

The Navajo Nation Council voted down the proposed Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement with a vote of 6 in favor and 15 opposed after about three hours of debate on Thursday.

Immediately after the vote, the standing room only crowd in the council chamber broke into applause.The Council vote came shortly after tribal water rights attorney Stanley Pollack assured the council that there was no harm in the council making a “counter offer” that they felt would meet the needs of the Navajo Nation.

Pollack reminded the council that when they met with Arizona Senators Jon Kyl and John McCain about Senate Bill 2109 that Kyl told them they if they were not happy with the terms of the water rights settlement that they would have a right to re-negotiate.Pollack’s statement came after council delegate Lorenzo Curley asked him from the council floor if council delegate Dwight Witherspoon’s proposed amendments to the proposed water agreement would be considered as a counter offer and would then require a return to the negotiating table.

Curley then explained that if Pollack confirmed that Witherspoon’s amendments would in fact be considered as a counter offer then the Council should just forget about the amendments and vote down the entire proposed water compact, which would send a clear message to Kyl and McCain that the tribe opposed SB 2109.Council delegate Russell Begaye, who opposed SB 2109, said the council’s vote opposing SB 2109 marked the beginning of a new era for the Navajo Nation.

“We, as naataaniis (leaders), decide what’s best for us, not outsiders, not our attorneys, not corporations,” Begaye said.Council delegate LoRenzo Bates, who supported the proposed water rights settlement, said that if the council approved the settlement then it was certain that the Navajo people would be getting water.Bates added that if they opposed the settlement then there was the uncertainty of what would happen in the future.

He said that if the other parties in the proposed water rights compact refused to re-negotiate that would force the Navajo Nation into Arizona state court and it was uncertain how the state court would rule.Bates also said even if the tribe won in state court, there would be no federal funding of reservation water projects.The proposed water rights settlement agreement included about $4 million for water projects for the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe.

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