Monthly Archives: May 2011

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5/14/2011 Gallup Independent: ENDAUM seeks halt to uranium mining

ENDAUM seeks halt to uranium mining By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent, 5/14/2011:WINDOW ROCK – The New Mexico Environmental Law Center and its client, Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining, or ENDAUM, filed a petition Friday with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights seeking to halt a uranium mining operation Churchrock and Crownpoint. A press conference is scheduled for Monday morning at the National Press Club in Washington. After 16 years of legal fighting, the New Mexico Environmental Law Center has exhausted all avenues offered by the U.S. legal system to overturn the mining license granted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to Hydro Resources Inc. Should HRI be allowed to mine, the drinking water for approximately 15,000 people will be contaminated, according to the law center. “The HRI license marks the first time that any mining company in the U.S. has been federally authorized to mine uranium in a community drinking water aquifer,” Eric Jantz, attorney for the law center stated in a press release. “This aquifer provides the sole source of drinking water for the mostly Navajo community members represented by ENDAUM. By granting this license, the NRC has failed to uphold its mandate to protect the health and safety of all Americans.”

On Friday, New Mexico Environment Department’s Ground Water Quality Bureau posted a notice that HRI plans to renew the discharge permit for its Section 8 property in McKinley County for the injection and circulation of up to 4,000 gallons per minute of “lixiviant” associated with the process of in-situ leach mining of uranium.

Lixiviant, which typically contains an oxidant such as oxygen and/or hydrogen peroxide mixed with sodium carbonate or carbon dioxide, is injected through wells into the ore body in a confined aquifer to dissolve the uranium. This solution is then pumped via other wells to the surface for processing, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

HRI plans to use injection and extraction wells to recover uranium from the Westwater Canyon aquifer at depths from 600 to 1,200 feet. Potential contaminants include chloride, radium-226, selenium, sulfate, total dissovled solids and uranium. The NMED posting kicks off a 30-day period for the public to request a hearing. HRI has stated its objective is to begin mining in Churchrock by mid-2013, and the community has few options left.

“ENDAUM’s best hope is to encourage the executive branch of the federal government to intervene to oppose this license,” Larry King, an ENDAUM board member, said. “Efforts over the past 15 years at the federal level have failed to engage officials and regulators about the impact this mining will have on the community’s health and water supply. We have to fight in every legal venue to prevent this mining from taking place.”

The petition seeks remedies for the violation of Navajo human rights and asks that the Commission recommend to the United States to suspend HRI’s materials license until such time as HRI has cleaned up the radioactive surface contamination on Churchrock’s Section 17, and the United States has taken significant and meaningful steps to remediate the abandoned uranium mines within the boundaries of the Churchrock Chapter, among other suggestions.

“Multiple international human rights treaties say health is a human right. The NMELC and our clients agree, and by licensing uranium projects in drinking water aquifers, the U.S. government has failed to protect the Navajo community’s human rights,” Jantz said. “New uranium mining will further desecrate Navajo communities across the reservation already suffering illnesses and death because of legacy mining and waste.”

Information: http://www.nmenv.state.nm.us/gwb/NMED-GWQB-PublicNotice.htm

5/13/2011 Gallup Independent: Dangerous playground: Abandoned uranium mill was favorite spot

Dangerous playground: Abandoned uranium mill was favorite spot By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent 5/13/2011 CAMERON – From the time he was 4 or 5 years old, Larry Gordy used to follow his dad on horseback across the multicolored landscape of the Painted Desert in Cameron. Eventually he started riding off on his own, seeking adventure amid the sandstone and mudstone hills while herding sheep and cattle. He was maybe 6 years old when he first encountered a rather nondescript concrete building out in the middle of nowhere. But gazing at it through the wonderment of youth, Gordy’s imagination ran wild. “I was born and raised without a permanent structure. We lived in a shack. To find a permanent structure, you were like, ‘Wow! Concrete!’ It was a favorite play place. When you’re 6 or 7 years old, that’s a fort.” It was worth riding his horse 8 miles to play all day on what he later learned was an abandoned uranium mill where ore was “concentrated,” or enriched.

“From being raised living in a shack and being covered by the Bennett Freeze where we couldn’t put anything down permanent, you saw a permanent structure way out here in the boonies and you’re hanging around it, you’re crawling on it, you’re climbing on it, and you’re looking at it – maybe you could just live out here in this permanent structure. You don’t know that it’s got radiation in it and it’s got uranium tailings in it,” he said.

The mill, which began operations in the mid-1950s, went unnoticed until last year when Gordy made mention of it to the grassroots group, Forgotten People. Together they brought it and other sites to the attention of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Division of Superfund.

U.S. EPA and Navajo Nation EPA will conduct a meeting at 10 a.m. Saturday at Moenkopi Legacy Inn & Suites in Tuba City to reveal their findings on the Cameron mill and the Hosteen Nez abandoned uranium mine site in Coalmine Chapter. They also will discuss their efforts to address abandoned uranium mines and safe drinking water in Western Navajo Agency.

Gordy, now 42, said his dad first told him about the mill. “Back in these rocks you’ll see a bunch of makeshift camp sites,” he said during a recent tour. “They were all the campsites for the Navajo people that worked here. From what my mom and dad told me, this was a real Sodom and Gomorrah out here. There was people making money, 24-hour parties. But everybody left just as fast as they showed up.”

Weston Solutions Inc. was contracted by EPA to do a site screen of the mill, located on state of Arizona land bordering the Navajo Nation. Radiation levels ranged from around 50,000 counts per minute for the bare cement foundation to 1 million counts per minute from the small dirt piles atop the foundation, compared to the average background reading of less than 16,000. The Little Colorado River Basin runs through the eastern edge of the mill site.

“Years ago, I’d come out here in the summertime and it would be like 100 degrees. You’re riding your horse down the river and you say, ‘Hey, I’m going to go over to this fort over here and hang out a little bit,” Gordy said. “You’d wrap your rope around some of these structures out here, and you’d go into this cave-looking thing” inside the mill. “It was really cool, and you’d sleep in here and take an evening nap. It was so awesome.”

The “cave” is a portion of the 100 foot-by-50 foot mill that is still intact. It has a square hole in the ceiling and a vehicle license plate from the 1950s cemented into the wall.

“When you ride around out here, you carry your lariat all the time. You come out here and you’ve got that little hole in the concrete with maybe a 20 foot drop. We used to anchor the rope to the horse and crawl in and out of that hole or pull people out, pretending we were doing a rescue,” Gordy said.

Sometimes he and his cousins would ride out together and tie off their horses to a piece of rebar sticking out of the concrete. They’d take a run a go and jump into the blown sand piles in front of the building or lead their horses up and down the chute, which still today is lined with highly radioactive waste.

About a quarter to a half mile away from the mill there’s one of many Western Nuclear Inc. markers and as Gordy said, “probably 20 or 30 core markers sticking out of the ground that are halfway rotted. From what I understand these were drilled test holes. They ran around all over the place drilling holes.” The markers have metal plates with numbers on them. “They were taking readings off of each sample that they took and numbering them,” he said.

Near the wetland area, Gordy and Marsha Monestersky, program director for Forgotten People, found the remains of a campfire and an old beer can. “Over the years people have come out here to just party. How many people have passed out in these uranium tailings?” Gordy said. And then pointing to a waste pile, “You see those little white mounds over there? Those things maxed out EPA’s Geiger counter.”

Though he never worked in the uranium mines or the mill, Gordy wonders what will happen if he gets sick. He questions the 1971 cutoff date to qualify for the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act. “They left the mines open where I hung around and played in. How can they close the date on it when they’ve got uranium tailings still laying all over the place? I would think if you’re going to close the compensation dates, you would close them after you got all of the uranium sites closed and controlled. Here we are, 2011, and we’re still exposed to it.

“My mom come up with this brain tumor type of brain cancer. We don’t know where she got it – living out here possibly. The thing with living out here is, how do you separate what illnesses are coming from your environment and what illnesses are normal? With the dust blowing and everything out here, who knows what you could catch,” he said.

Doug Brugge, Ph.D., M.S., professor of Public Health and Community Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, reviewed three site screen reports for Forgotten People. The radiation levels for the Section 9 lease, which includes the mill, are both higher and appear to be spread out over a larger geographic area, he said.

“Mills tend to be built near water. I think the EPA report acknowledges that contamination could be moving from the site into the river. That seemed to be EPA’s primary concern in terms of exposure both to the environment and to people – the potential for contamination to get into the river,” Brugge said.

“My main question is what comes next, and is this enough evidence for EPA to do anything more, or are they going to write these off?” The mill’s close proximity to the Little Colorado River might be the strongest motivator for cleanup, he said, because the Little Colorado feeds into the Colorado River, which provides drinking water to millions of people from Arizona to California.

Monestersky said Forgotten People appreciates EPA’s prompt response in investigating the southeast Cameron uranium concentrating mill, the open pits and tailings piles, and Goldsprings mines. “Forgotten People respectfully requests the U.S. EPA do everything necessary to protect wetlands and water sources, and conduct radiation surveys beyond the borders of these sites to assess levels of contamination to downstream users on the Little Colorado River and contamination of water resources throughout the region.

“How could the U.S. EPA and other agencies miss the southeast Cameron uranium concentrating mill when they did aerial flyovers to assess contamination?” she said.

4/28/2011 Gallup Independent: 'Navajo Boy' to be shown at environmental justice conference

‘Navajo Boy’ to be shown at environmental justice conference By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent, 4/28/2011 WINDOW ROCK – The award-winning film, “The Return of Navajo Boy” will be shown Thursday afternoon at the fifth annual State of Environmental Justice in America Conference in Washington. Directed by Jeff Spitz of Chicago, the internationally acclaimed documentary that reunited a Navajo family and triggered a federal investigation into uranium contamination is a reminder of the legacy of Cold War uranium mining on the Navajo Nation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began cleanup March 30 of the Skyline Mine on Oljato Mesa in Monument Valley and radioactive waste in Elsie Begay’s back yard. Begay, who lost two children to radiation-related cancers, is featured in the Groundswell film which introduces audiences to Native American culture, environmental racism and one Navajo grandmother’s struggle for justice.

“Groundswell along with Elsie and other Navajo family members have worked tirelessly over the last 11 years for this outcome,” Spitz said. “The U.S. Department of Energy under the present administration is proud of this environmental justice story.”

DOE invited Groundswell to come to Washington to present the film and epilogue. Friday morning, on the second day of the conference, Spitz and Navajo participants will discuss how they use media, live events, advocacy and persistence to leverage change in public policy.

But while they celebrate the victory for Begay’s family, Spitz said, many other Navajo families are dealing with radioactive contamination and grief that simply cannot be contained.

One of the premier authorities on uranium issues in Navajo Indian Country, Perry Charley of Dine College’s Environmental Institute and a panelist on environmental health issues in Indian Country at the 2010 conference, had hoped to attend this year’s event. However, Spitz said, “His doctors will not allow the travel. He has cancer.”

Instead, Charley wrote a statement about the “real state of environmental justice in Navajo lands” for Spitz to share with the audience. “Sorry I can’t be there, but tell the crowd I wish them well. And the federal government has waited too long to fund many remedial projects, education and research studies,” he said.

Among the points Charley highlights is the Navajo Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Department – which has so diligently monitored and performed remediation of abandoned uranium mines and mill sites on the Navajo Nation – is proposed to have its funding cut completely by the Obama administration, he said. “The program is desperately needed to perform continued surveillance and maintain reclaimed uranium mines and mills, some of which show signs of deterioration and exposing radioactive waste to nearby communities.”

Charley also expects a hard battle in Congress over passage of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments of 2011, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico and a bipartisan group of senators. “Many of our Navajo miners and families face challenges in getting compensation due to the heavy documentation requirement of the process. The federal government still does not understand the implications of traditional and cultural sensitivity,” he said.

And while there is now a five-year plan for cleanup of legacy waste, there is “no funding to perform many of the issues we face” from past Manhattan Engineer District and Atomic Energy Commission activities.

Charley said he personally has been sampling and conducting studies of the impacts to Navajo water sources. “We have a well with uranium concentration of 760 parts per billion,” many times above the 30 parts per billion Maximum Contaminant Level allowable under U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s drinking water standards, “and another a few miles away with 200 parts per billion,” he said. “These communities have no alternate water source and the Navajo continue to use contaminated sources for their domestic needs.”

Companies who once mined Navajo lands for uranium need to be made to come back and clean up their mess, according to Charley. “We have tons of radioactive materials scattered throughout Navajo lands. Our water is contaminated and our air is contaminated. Homes are built with radioactive materials.

“We need studies to determine the impact to our children and their future. There has never been a true epidemiological study done on Navajo lands to determine the true extent of exposure. Small-scale studies and research point to contamination of every segment of our lives and society.”

Navajo also needs educational funds for programs such as the Uranium Education Program which he once directed and had to cease due to lack of funding. “We need to educate our people and our young ones to be part of this process, to be self-sustaining and to dictate our own future and destiny. We literally have dozens of mining companies at our reservation doors waiting for the moratorium on uranium mining and processing to be lifted on Navajo lands. The companies and federal entities that continue to disregard our tribal sovereignty laws and rights need to recognize these.”

Education and research studies need to continue, Charley said. “Even for some of us who have been involved in being part of these activities to try to correct the wrongs of the past, we are affected as well. I don’t know what my future holds, but I am fighting for my very survival,” he told Spitz. “Feel free to tell them this, especially the feds.”

5/14/2011 US EPA Superfund meeting

It is almost time for Saturday, 5/14 US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) meeting at Moenkopi Legacy Inn to discuss the status of abandoned uranium mine screenings in the western agency of the Navajo Nation and safe drinking water issues.

4/26/2011 Grist: Climate Change Climate legislation advances in 16 major countries

4/26/2011 Grist: Climate Change Climate legislation advances in 16 major countries by Jake Schmidt Default badge avatar for Jake Schmidt A new study [PDF] released by GLOBE international — a coalition of legislators from around the world — found that “climate change is featuring prominently on the legislative agenda across the 16 major economies.” The study, conducted by the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at the London School of Economics, documents the kinds of actions that countries are taking at home to reduce their emissions. While it doesn’t tell us the impact of those measures, it does show a growing commitment of countries to change their laws, policies, and regulations to address their carbon pollution. This is a focus that recently emerged at the global warming negotiations when developed and developing countries presented details on the actions they are taking to meet their commitments to reduce emissions. These are the kinds of actions that are essential to addressing global warming as we ultimately need countries acting, not just saying they’ll act.

While not intended to be a full list of all the measures that a country is taking — they don’t include state/provincial measures — the report does provide a good glimpse into the actions in these 16 countries (the report provides good details for each country). The countries documented are the biggest emitting countries and collectively account for over 70 percent of the world’s emissions, so the actions that they take at home are crucial to solving this challenge. Here is a quick summary of the types of actions that these countries are taking and the coverage of those actions:

international climate legislation As the report [PDF] notes:

This activity suggests that the difficult talks in Copenhagen, and the subsequent slow progress in the formal negotiations, has not diminished countries’ appetite for developing climate change legislation, perhaps recognizing that many of the actions required to reduce emissions and to adapt to a changing climate, are directly in the national interest.

This is a very positive development, as countries are now motivated by self-interest to act. The global negotiations put a spotlight on this action and reinforce the need for countries to come prepared with commitments and actions. In the lead-in to Copenhagen, countries knew that the spotlight would be on them, so they needed to come prepared with real commitments to address their carbon pollution.

In the lead-in to the next annual high-level global warming negotiations in Durban, South Africa, let’s hope that countries don’t lose sight of what ultimately matters: what actions countries are taking at home and what kind of impacts are those actions having in reducing carbon pollution.

They’ll have another chance in Durban this December, and then in June 2012 when world leaders meet at the Rio+20 Earth Summit to take further steps to deploy clean energy, improve their energy efficiency, and reduce deforestation emissions. I hope they take advantage of these opportunities. The spotlight will be on them.

I’m the international climate policy director at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). I blog regularly on international climate change issues and the negotiations on NRDC’s Switchboard. And I twitter at: http://twitter.com/jschmidtnrdc

Happy Mother's Day to all Mothers and Mother Earth

Happy Mother’s Day to all Mothers and Mother Earth

5/7/2011 Gallup Independent: Government damage control? 'Geronimo no bin Laden' Furor grows over use of code name for stealth operation

Government damage control? ‘Geronimo no bin Laden’ Furor grows over use of code name for stealth operation 5/7/2011 By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau Gallup Independent: WINDOW ROCK – Whether the name “Geronimo” was given to the covert operation to take down Osama bin Laden or was used for America’s No. 1 enemy himself is of little significance to most Native Americans. The fact that the link was used at all in the operation to kill the al-Qaida leader undermines the military service of Native Americans, many say. “Geronimo is no bin Laden,” White Mountain Apache Chairman Ronnie Lupe said. “Geronimo was a well-trained medicine man, and he was a kind man. But when we were invaded by terrorists back in the 1800s here in our country in the state of Arizona, he stood his ground against terrorists for a very long time. He was the first one to be recognized as a terrorist fighter across the United States.” Lupe believes Geronimo is “the greatest man that ever lived in the Southwest.” Lupe was born and raised in Cibecue, Ariz., where Geronimo once visited back in the early 1800s. During the Korean conflict, Lupe ended up on the front line with Item Company, 3rd Batallion, 1st Marine Regiment, he said. Native Americans from many other Indian tribes across the country fought also.

“They stood and defended the United States American flag, the American people, on foreign shores in many countries throughout the world. Still today, some of our kids and grandkids are over there, wearing the uniform proudly of the United States of America in various armed forces.”

Lupe said they do not appreciate Geronimo’s name being connected to bin Laden. “However it was used, we feel that we have been disgraced as an Indian nation.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., chaired a hearing Thursday afternoon before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs regarding “Stolen Identities: The Impact of Racist Stereotypes on Indigenous People.” Udall substituted for Sen. Daniel Aakaka, D-Hawaii, who had a minor accident at home and could not attend.

“In the last couple of days most of us in this room have heard the news reports on the association of ‘Geronimo’ being used as a code word associated with the successful mission to kill Osama bin Laden. It goes without saying that all of us feel a tremendous sense of relief and pride toward our military personnel, intelligence community, and commander in chief – both past and present – for accomplishing this mission,” Udall said.

Native Americans historically have the highest per capita rate of military service of any ethnic group. “Tens of thousands of Native Americans serve in our military today, defending their homeland, just as Geronimo did,” Udall said. He recognized Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly, who attended the hearing. “Ben and I both know that 11 Navajos have died in military service since 9/11.”

Udall said his office has tried to get clarification about the code name from the Department of Defense, but that protocol prohibits the release of information regarding operation names. “As a result, the details of how Geronimo’s name was used are unclear,” he said. “I find the association of Geronimo with bin Laden to be highly inappropriate and culturally insensitive.”

Former Navajo Nation Chairman Peter MacDonald, a Navajo Code Talker during World War II, said his wife Wanda received a call from Udall’s office Tuesday. “They told her they read the Gallup Independent article and they were concerned about that, and they were doing some of their own investigation,” MacDonald said.

The Independent ran an article in which MacDonald demanded an apology from the United States for what he considered a major affront to First Americans everywhere.

“What they told her was that bin Laden was not called Geronimo; he was called ‘Jackpot,’ and the mission was ‘Geronimo.’ So they said media messed up and they started referring to bin Laden as Geronimo. But I noticed that in a lot of the other media, ABC came out with another explanation. The UK Telegraph said the code word apparently was used because of Geronimo’s ability to avoid capture.” Regardless, MacDonald said, “A lot of Native Americans across the country now are outraged and saying everything I said.”

Shelly issued a statement saying that as the leader of the largest Indian nation in America, “I am appalled and disappointed that United States military leaders would dishonor the legacy of war leader Geronimo and the Apache tribes,” as well as all Native American servicemen and women and the Nation’s own code talkers.

To assign the operation code name “Geronimo” to America’s most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden, is “dehumanizing, unethical and perpetrates international ignorance toward every Native American living in the United States today,” Shelly said. “The Navajo Nation respects the Apache tribes as having some of the fiercest warriors and the finest light cavalry the world has ever known.” He called on President Obama and the Pentagon to change the operation code name immediately.

Suzan Shown Harjo, president of The Morning Star Institute – a national Native rights organization – and a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma, said that as Native Americans were absorbing the news about bin Laden, they also learned of the code name.

“Shortly thereafter, various spin cycles began, attempting to convince us that we hadn’t heard or read what we heard and read – Geronimo stood for the operation to get bin Laden, not for the terrorist himself; Geronimo was used because he was hard to track or capture; Geronimo was the code name because the military picks obscure things the enemy would not know,” Harjo said. But, she added, “Geronimo was picked for the same reason that the term ‘Indian Country’ is still used to mean ‘enemy territory.’

“My father was a World War II hero in the storied Thunderbird Division, the 45th Infantry Division. … My dad was not an enemy when he helped win World War II or when his legs were almost shot off at Monte Cassino (Italy). He was not an enemy when he served in Allied Forces Southern Europe with NATO. He was an ally. … Our history is very complicated, but this is our country in a way that it is no one else’s country, because no one brought any land here with them. This will always be our country, and so when we’re slurred in public in this way, we all take offense.”

Charlene Teters of the Spokane Tribe who works at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, said her two nephews fought in Iraq and in Afghanistan. “Is it possible at this moment of national triumph, that the deepest insult was not delivered upon al-Qaida abroad, but to a small population here at home? … When the United States uses these terms and symbols, it goes against its greatest honor.”

Arizona Sen. Albert Hale, D-2nd District, sent a letter May 4 to Obama, stating that the use of Geronimo’s name “is an outrage. … I implore you to immediately apologize on national television to the Native American nations and their peoples. Your words have been of unity and healing past wrongs. This is a wrong that demands immediate words of healing.”

5/5/2011 Public News Service: Arizonans Call for Canyon Mining Moratorium

Public News Service: Arizonans Call for Canyon Mining Moratorium PHOENIX, Ariz. – Hundreds of thousands of Americans, including 36 Arizona groups, have weighed in to support a federal proposal for a 20-year ban on new uranium mining claims on 1 million acres near Grand Canyon National Park. A public comment period has just ended. The Obama administration is expected to decide the issue in the next few weeks. Lynn Hamilton is the executive director of Grand Canyon River Guides, a nonprofit group of professional river guides and individuals who love the Grand Canyon. She warns that runoff from existing uranium mines has already polluted several rivers, creeks and springs within the national park. “It’s really alarming for people to feel like the areas that they’re visiting and recreating in, which they consider to be wilderness areas, are tainted in this way.”

Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva and 62 other members of Congress have sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar urging him to approve the proposed 20-year moratorium. Several local governments and Native American tribal governments have also endorsed the proposed mining ban. The industry maintains that modern mining techniques prevent environmental damage.

Hamilton says Native Americans living in northern Arizona have been especially hard-hit by water pollution resulting from uranium mining.

“It’s really a deadly history. Many Native Americans have died from drinking tainted water or from using that water to sustain their livestock and crops when it’s contaminated.”

Hamilton also expresses concern about the potential effect on tourism from uranium mining claims that are “right on the doorstep” of the Grand Canyon.

“This is an area that draws 5 million visitors each year. It contributes almost $700 million annually to the regional economy.”

Grand Canyon tourism supports some 12,000 full-time jobs, she adds.

5/3/2011 Gallup Independent: Plan offered to streamline conspiracy cases Prosecutor will drop most criminal charges, file civil complaints

Plan offered to streamline conspiracy cases – Prosecutor will drop most criminal charges, file civil complaints By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent, 5/3/2011: WINDOW ROCK – Special Prosecutor Alan Balaran on Monday filed with the Supreme Court a proposed plan for proceedings with the upcoming conspiracy prosecutions of delegates from the 21st and 22nd Navajo Nation Council regarding the expenditure of approximately $33 million in discretionary funds. In an effort to streamline the process, with the concurrence of Window Rock District Court Judge Carol Perry, Balaran has proposed to withdraw the outstanding criminal complaints, without prejudice, against all but a few of the defendants. In place, he has proposed to file a series of civil complaints demanding restitution of funds, “whether stolen from the discretionary fund account; from the ‘Charitable Contribution’ account – the Council’s new slush fund; from the Tribal Account Fund; from the Eyeglass Fund; from the money advanced to former delegates under the liberal ‘travel’ program which was never reimbursed; and from those funds spent surreptitiously on legal fees,” he stated.

He will ask the district court to freeze the assets of those members of the 21st Council where it can be demonstrated that not only did they steal a considerable amount of public funds, but where it can be established that those assets are at risk of being hidden, fraudulently conveyed or dissipated.

He urged the Supreme Court to allow Judge Perry to take sole charge of the cases after they have been converted from the criminal to the civil arena, and to appoint another judge to assume her criminal docket.

Balaran said he intends to use search warrants to seize documents from the offices of the Attorney General, Controller, Office of Management and Budget, Office of the President and former president. For the past year, formal requests for the documents have been rebuffed, he said, and he is concerned that many of the relevant documents will end up “inadvertently” missing. “This scenario has repeated on several occasions.”

In its March 1 decision of Acothley v. Perry, The Supreme Court ordered the conspiracy trials to be consolidated and the district courts and the special prosecutor to confer and come up with a plan for adjudication of the multi-defendant trials. The court also ordered the special prosecutor to seek the assistance of attorneys and advocates from the office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Chief Prosecutor to carry out the court’s request, as well as federal assistance.

“The court’s directives have, for the most part, been ignored,” Balaran stated, adding that he has been challenged in his attempts to follow the court’s directives, primarily as the result of certain individuals and institutions refusing to discharge their obligations.

In the Special Division’s Jan. 6, 2010, order, the special prosecutor was assigned to investigate the Navajo Nation’s business ventures with OnSat Network Communications Inc., to explore the Nation’s relationship with BCDS, or Biochemical Decontamination Systems Inc., and at the behest of the attorney general, to look into allegations challenging Council’s spending of $33 million in discretionary funds over the course of five years.

The scope was expanded, again at the behest of the attorney general, to include investigation of the use of funds allocated to the tribal ranch program and the expenditure of discretionary funds by the office of the former president/vice president and the former speaker of the Navajo Nation Council.

During the course of his investigation, Balaran said he uncovered a systemic pattern of financial improprieties on the part of the Nation’s most senior officials that resulted in the loss, theft or misuse of millions of dollars both in federal and tribal funds and more than $1.5 billion in federal grants. He further uncovered a practice of accounting irregularities that include the false reporting of receipts, collections, deposits and disbursements of federal, state and Navajo tribal funds dating back more than 10 years.

In response, Balaran said, the Special Division again expanded his jurisdiction to include investigation of the Office of the Controller and its subsidiaries, and to prosecute any violation of Navajo, federal and state financial laws.

He noted that Council’s initial suggestion to retain a special prosecutor was not initiated by their outrage at a possible breach of Navajo appropriation protocols, but by a desire to expose malfeasance on the part of former President Joe Shirley Jr. and force his departure from office.

The special prosecutor’s investigation initially revealed the misappropriation of a minor amount of discretionary monies and lack of adherence to policies regulating their expenditure, he said, but further inquiry “revealed a wholesale effort by 21st Council members to convert these emergency funds to their own use.”

“Even more troublesome was the discovery that both Attorneys General Louis Denetsosie and Harrison Tsosie violated numerous federal and Navajo statutes by surreptitiously entering into contracts with no fewer than two law firms – neither of whom hired attorneys licensed to practice before the Navajo courts – to defend the former president and his chief of staff against the special prosecutor’s investigation as defined by the Special Division,” Balaran stated.

He also alleged that Controller Mark Grant was responsible for the loss of billions of dollars in federal grants while similarly violating dozens of federal rules and regulations.

“These issues are raised not merely to demonstrate that theft, fraud and incompetence inform practically every financial transaction in the Nation, but to underscore that this evidence will necessarily arise during the trials of many of the delegates,” Balaran stated. He said he has gathered the necessary evidence to file 259 complaints against 78 delegates.

While the Supreme Court instructed Balaran and the district courts to confer on a plan for trying the multi-defendant conspiracy trials, only four out of 10 courts responded to Balaran’s invitation, he said. In addition, despite the Supreme Court’s order that he request help from the Office of the Attorney General, “the OAG did not simply ignore the court’s order, it went to great pains not to comply,” Balaran said. Only the chief prosecutor “expressed a genuine willingness to assist,” however, her office is overwhelmed by a full docket of cases, he said.

Previous attempts to seek assistance from various members of the Office of the Attorney General also were refused, according to Balaran. “Those that explained their rationale cited their fear of retaliation, expressed their concern at being terminated and losing much-needed benefits, or of finding themselves jobless without the ability to support a family.” In any “bilagaana” court, an attorney violating an order from any trial court would face severe sanctions, including suspension and disbarment, he noted.

At the court’s urging, Balaran said he traveled on several occasions to Washington to confer with the acting attorney general at the Department of the Interior, which has given the Nation close to $1.5 billion, but that office could promise no immediate action. He also attempted to contact U.S. attorneys for the states of New Mexico and Arizona but was unable to speak directly with either of them. As a result, he submitted his plan Monday to the Supreme Court to streamline prosecution of the cases.

5/5/2011 Navajo Times: Balaran: Senior officials part of 'systemic' abuse

5/5/2011 Navajo Times: Balaran: Senior officials part of ‘systemic’ abuse by By Bill Donovan Special to the Times: The $2 million or so that Navajo Nation Council delegates allegedly stole from their discretionary funds is only the tip of the iceberg, according to a court document filed Monday by Special Prosecutor Alan Balaran. In a proposed revision of his prosecution plan submitted to the Navajo Nation Supreme Court, Balaran stated, “During the course of his investigation, the special prosecutor uncovered a systemic pattern of financial improprieties on the part of the nation’s most senior officials that resulted in the loss, theft or misuse of millions of dollars both in federal and tribal funds and more than $1.5 billion in federal grants.”

Accounting irregularities related to the misuse of money date back 10 years and include false reporting of receipts, collections, deposits and disbursements, he stated. Federal, state and tribal money is involved.

Balaran originally was hired by the Council to look into allegations of impropriety in connection with then President Joe Shirley Jr. and the contracts for OnSat and BCDS, two business deals that cost the tribe millions and ended in failure.

A special court panel set up to oversee his operations expanded Balaran’s authority on Jan. 6 to look into the Council discretionary funds and based on what he then uncovered, further expanded his mandate to look into all aspects of tribal finances.

What he found, according to Monday’s document, is epic corruption and mismanagement by some of the highest officials in the tribal government.

Balaran singled out the tribe’s controller, Mark Grant, for his role in allowing tribal funds to be misused.

“Putting aside for the moment that Mr. Grant, by all accounts, displays a remarkable lack of knowledge concerning anything related to tribal finances, the controller was singularly responsible for the loss of billions of dollars in federal grants while simultaneously violating dozens of federal rules and regulations,” Balaran wrote.

“These issues are raised not merely to demonstrate that theft, fraud and incompetence inform practically every financial transaction in the nation but to underscore that this evidence will necessarily arise during the trials of many of the delegates.”

Attempts to get hold of Grant for comment on Wednesday were unsuccessful. Grant did not return phone calls, and kept the Navajo Times on hold for over 20 minutes on one call before an assistant said it was time to free up the phone line and disconnected the call.

Balaran asserted that Grant also “played a role designed to ensure the special prosecutor was not paid,” but lays major blame for this problem at the feet of the tribe’s attorney generals, past and present.

Balaran stated that former Attorney General Louis Denetsosie and his top assistant, current Attorney General Harrison Tsosie, “violated numerous federal and Navajo statutes by surreptitiously entering into contracts with no fewer than two law firms – neither of whom hired attorneys licensed to practice before the Navajo courts – to defend the former president and his chief of staff against the special prosecutor’s investigation.”

Balaran said he has records showing that while Denetsosie and Tsosie paid those lawyers more than $250,000, “they simultaneously refused to compensate the special prosecutor and his staff on the plank that there were no available funds.”

Tsosie was on travel according to his staff and could not be reached for comment. Denetsosie, who reportedly has gone into private practice since stepping down in January, could not be located.

In addition to encountering repeated problems getting tribal officials to turn over documents, Balaran told the high court that its directives on case planning and other procedural matters are being widely flouted by lower courts and the attorney general’s office.

Only four of the 10 district courts responded to his invitation to meet and discuss how to ensure all the defendants get speedy trials.

He also said members of the attorney general’s office have told him they fear retaliation, including the loss of their jobs, if they help him, despite the Supreme Court directive to do so.

Citing the court’s order to the attorney general and chief prosecutor’s office to assist the special prosecutor, Balaran said, “From all accounts, this … caused panic among the members of the office of the Attorney General who met in emergency session the very next morning” to decide how to fight the order.

“In this instance, the OAG did not simply ignore the court’s order, it went to great pains not to comply,” Balaran said.

He singled out Chief Prosecutor Bernadine Martin as an exception, writing, “In stark opposition to the recalcitrance demonstrated by her colleagues at OAG, the chief prosecutor expressed a genuine willingness to assist.”

Balaran expressed surprise that no one has been penalized for ignoring the Supreme Court’s orders. He said in most off-reservation courts an attorney who refused to comply with a direct order from a court would face severe sanctions including suspension and disbarment.

“… the special prosecutor must profess he has never heard of so many jurists demonstrat(ing) a similar irreverence toward an appellate court. On the Navajo Nation, it appears that, irrespective of the court issuing the order, orders are complied with at the convenience of the attorney,” Balaran wrote.

Balaran said “in response to this court’s urging,” he reported the misuse of federal and state money to the proper authorities, including the acting attorney general for the U.S. Interior Department, but that agency “faces its own financial constraints and could promise no immediate action.”

He also tried to contact the U.S. attorneys for New Mexico and Arizona to report his findings, he told the Supreme Court, but so far hasn’t been able to speak directly with either one.

http://www.navajotimes.com/politics/2011/0511/050511specialp2.php