Monthly Archives: July 2011

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7/30/2011 Forgotten People's Comments for the official record regarding the draft Navajo Nation Energy Plan

7/30/2011 Forgotten People’s Comments for the official record regarding the draft Navajo Nation Energy Plan Via Email transmission to Michelle Henry, Division of Natural Resources, The Navajo Nation Window Rock, Navajo Nation (Arizona) 86515: Re: Comments on the draft Energy Plan for the Navajo Nation (FOR THE OFFICIAL RECORD):Forgotten People is a nonprofit grassroots organization active within the Navajo Nation. We represent communities that span over 2 million acres of remote desert terrain in the northeastern part of Arizona. Most of the members practice a subsistence lifestyle of herding sheep. Many elderly community members speak only Dinè (the preferred nomenclature of the Navajo people). Forgotten People is herewith submitting these Comments for the official record regarding the draft Energy Plan for the Navajo Nation:

Forgotten People is concerned that the energy policy focuses on the continued use of coal and coal-fired power plants and leaves the door open for renewed uranium mining when the Navajo Nation can become a leader in the forefront of alternative energy.

Forgotten People supports James W. Zion, Esq. and the application of the Fundamental Laws upheld by the Navajo Nation Supreme Court that the land, property, resources and income generated from them are the property of the Navajo People. Forgotten People is concerned about a lack of transparency and fiscal responsibility by the central government through the use of “so called discretionary funds”, fails to provide an accounting of Navajo Rehabilitation Trust Fund monies and approves a lease re-opener for Peabody Coal Company’s Black Mesa mine when the Black Mesa mine does not have an operating permit.

Forgotten People supports the idea of civil society as an emerging concept in Indian country and supports the Right to Development, Navajo Nation adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and the UN Declaration on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation. (See Forgotten People’s submission: “Stakeholder’s views for the Study on Human Rights Obligations related to Equitable Access to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation the Right to Water” posted on the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights website dated 4/15/2007.)

A 43-year US government imposed Bennett Freeze and forced relocation of 12,000 Dinè at a cost to US taxpayers of 500 million dollars was perpetrated upon our people so Peabody Western Coal Company could mine coal and power Navajo Generating Station. A legacy due to the export of coal and uranium mining is responsible for the observed adverse impacts of those mining activities on air quality, water quality, animal and human health, sacred sites, burial sites and cultural and historic sites.

Our communities face serious development issues. These issues have been compounded by the 43-year US government imposed Bennett Freeze. The Freeze was imposed in 1966 and is largely responsible for inadequate housing, lack of basic infrastructure such as paved roads, and pervasive poverty in the region. Only 3 % of families have electricity. Over 90% of the homes do not have access to piped water, requiring families to haul their water from other locations. EPA estimates 54,000 residents of the Navajo Nation lack access to a public water system. Only 24 % of homes are habitable today.

Since 1966, the population has increased by approximately 65 percent in the former Bennett Freeze area, forcing several generations of families to live together in dwellings that have been declared unfit for human habitation. The result of which has been a large number of deaths from exposure to the harsh climate.

The Bennett Freeze is responsible for intergenerational trauma affecting people mentally, physically and psychologically. Medical studies confirm that overcrowding in addition to the absence of running water, refrigeration, and adequate sewage disposal adversely impact the mental and physical health of Dinè residing in the former Bennett Freeze. These impacts range from youth suicide and mental illness; and an array of medical aliments including but not limited to kidney failure and cancer.

On May 6, 2009, President Obama signed legislation HR 956 and S531 to repeal the portion of Public Law 93-531 (The Relocation Act) to end the Freeze. Unfortunately, this did not address the extensive impact this law had on the Dinè people. While the Freeze has halted essential construction, including power line extensions, waterline extensions, and improvements to roads and community facilities, no rehabilitation program was developed to address the effects of the Freeze.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) is involved in a major effort to improve access to safe water on the Navajo Nation and redress problems resulting from the legacy of uranium mining in the 1950s and 60’s as a result of two pressures. The first was a commitment made by the EPA at the 2002 United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in which the US pledged to reduce the number of its citizens lacking access to safe drinking water and sanitation by 50% by 2015. The second is the largest concentration of people without piped water and sanitation is on the Navajo Nation, especially in the communities served by Forgotten People.

A legacy of uranium mining has contaminated Navajo land and water resources. Close to a hundred percent of the demand for uranium stemmed out of the U.S. government’s pursuit for nuclear weaponry during the Cold War. From 1944 to 1986 across the Navajo Nation, mine operators extracted nearly 4 million tons of uranium ore which brought the ore to the surface.

The Navajo Nation reports the presence of over 1300 abandoned unreclaimed mines and the leeching of uranium from the slag piles into drinking water supplies was damaging water supplies. Up to 25% of the unregulated sources in the western Navajo reservation exceed drinking water standard for kidney toxicants including uranium.

Uranium in the drinking water causes multiple health impacts like bone cancer and impaired kidney function from exposure to radionuclides in drinking water. Before the cause was known, doctors in the region thought they had discovered a genetic disease caused “Navajo Neuropathy”, which was associated with muscular degeneration, ulcers, vision weakness, and other severe health issues. Cancer rates among Dinè teenagers living near mine tailings are 17 times the national average. Reproductive-organ cancers in teenage Dinè girls average seventeen times higher than the average of girls in the U.S.

The Navajo miners were regularly exposed to radioactive conditions that were sometimes in excess of 750 times the generally accepted radon limits, which led to many instances of cancer, death, and other diseases. “Concentrated uranium was being blown all over the land surrounding the mills” for up to “a radius of a half a mile or so” which led to further contamination. Even after uranium mining ceased there were still radioactive problems that persisted through the mill tailings (the leftovers from the conversion process).

Forgotten People believes reaching our goals will require collaboration with the help of the Navajo central government and a human rights centered approach to development.

Forgotten People believes that in order to accomplish our goals we will need tangible improvements for our communities that would be greatly enhanced with the help of the central government.

Wars of the future will be fought over water, as they are over oil today, as our ‘Blue Gold’, the source of human survival, enters the global marketplace. While here on the Navajo Nation the most precious of all resources, our water rights, are being waived and minimized, endangering the survival of our citizens and future generations as a separate indigenous People.

In the last days of the prior administration, the Navajo Nation signed a Water Rights Settlement against the wishes of the people. Forgotten People believes the Settlement is a tragedy not only due to the minimizing of Dinè rights but the waiver of hundreds of millions of dollars in potential compensation for rights waived and a waiver for injury to water as we have seen in the Black Falls region where sources are still contaminated with arsenic and uranium, and where a US EPA Superfund contractor found, on November 9, 2010, that an un-remediated abandoned mill located yards away from a Wetland by the Little Col. River, in a flood zone, maxed out his Geiger counter at over 1 million counts a minute. This mill is in close proximity to an un-remediated abandoned uranium pit with high walls and tailings piles.

The corporate favoritism at Dinè people’s expense is throwing away money when Dinè s have to haul water by small barrels, drink contaminated water or have no access to water. The Dinè people do not get power from the NGS. It goes to Phoenix and Tucson and other cities. There is a fundamental unfairness and lack of information on the Navajo Nation. The issues addressed by Forgotten People’s highlight the need for strengthening and implementing cross-cutting principles in international human rights law. This is needed by the Navajo Nation in considering a draft Energy policy.

As members of a civil society, Forgotten People affirms the right to development and transparency. Public health is threatened by un-remediated abandoned uranium mines, coal mines, renewed uranium mining adjacent to our borders in the wetlands of the Grand Canyon, the ‘crown jewel’ of the national park system and the proposed transport of uranium through Dinè lands with no disaster response plan and the Navajo Nation remains silent.

Forgotten People urges the Navajo Nation to work with Forgotten People, Forgotten People’s attorney and grassroots organizations to develop an energy policy that will benefit the People, the environment and our future generations.

Respectfully submitted,
Caroline Tohannie
On behalf of forgotten People

• 7/29/2011 Comments on the DRAFT Energy Plan for the Navajo Nation (James W. Zion, Esq.)
• 7/19/2011 Forgotten People White Paper recommending a uranium transport ban amendment to the Dine’ Mining and Milling Ban
• 3/15/2011 Uranium Transport Analysis (Robert Sabie, Huxley College of the Environment, Western Washington University)
• Map of the Proposed uranium transport route through the Navajo Nation (Robert Sabie, Huxley College of the Environment, Western Washington University)
• LINK to Interactive Mapping (Arc-based) project (work-in-progress): (Robert Sabie, Huxley College of the Environment, Western Washington University)
• 3/16/2011 DRAFT Energy Policy for the Navajo Nation (Jarrett Wheeler, Huxley College of the Environment, Western Washington University)

7/31/2011 AZ Daily Sun: STAR filmmakers tell their stories

Taylor Long, left, and Larissa Luther, both 12, stand next to their media instructor, Rachel Tso, inside the multi-purpose room Thursday morning at STAR Charter School on Leupp Road. They are standing in front of the backdrop they normally use when conducting film interviews. The students have taken two summer video workshops with Tso and are members of her regular media arts class, which began July 20 at the school. They helped on “Redbird Saves the Corn,” one of the five STAR student films being shown at the annual Navajo Festival of Arts and Culture next weekend. (Betsey Bruner/Arizona Daily Sun) 7/31/2011 AZ Daily Sun: STAR filmmakers tell their stories: In the shade of a strawbale building on the campus of STAR Charter School, two girls hovered over the viewscreen on an HD video camera, wondering why they couldn’t see the image better.

“It’s a neutral density filter,” explained Rachel Tso, their media art instructor. “When you’re outside, you need the ND filter.”

The students, Taylor Long and Larissa Luther, both 12, worked this summer on the film “Redbird Saves the Corn,” which is a traditional Spider Woman story told through lightbox animation.


Tso is in her third year of teaching film students at STAR, a K-6 school located about 25 miles northeast of Flagstaff on Leupp Road.

It is the nation’s first solar-powered, off-the-grid public school campus.

Students pick their subject matter for films, often dealing with culture and sustainable living.

Films produced thus far have asked some of these questions: How do you make kneel-down bread? What are the benefits of solar power? What are the traditional peacemaking techniques on the Navajo Nation? How do you conduct a sweatlodge ceremony?

Visitors to the annual Navajo Festival of Arts and Culture next weekend will have these questions and more answered by a group of these young filmmakers when they screen five of their films on both days of the festival.

About eight of them will be at the museum to present their films, Tso said.

“The kids are really excited to go to the museum,” Tso said. “These film projects are really good for the kids, to have their voice heard, to have adults commenting on their work is just invaluable.”

Tso, who is of Scottish and Jewish ancestry, is married to a full Navajo, Francis Tso.

The couple has two daughters, Camille Manybeads Tso, 16, and Bahozhoni Tso, 5.

Camille has been mentoring media arts students at STAR and helped produce the three newest short films.

Tso, pregnant with their third child, is looking forward to a semester of eager film students.

They will learn steps to making a film, including pre-production (like brainstorming ideas), how to frame an interview, how to write the treatment, use of video and sound equipment, how to edit and how to speak to an audience.

“For me, I see the polishing is when they present their work,” she said.


The students and the films will enhance the theme of the festival, “A Walk in Beauty,” which will highlight two days of cultural immersion in the Navajo experience, bringing prominent musical performers, a traditional dance troupe and Heritage Insight talks from the region’s experts, all to the museum and its grounds.

The festival will also gather 75 artists from all corners of the Navajo Nation at the museum, continuing the tradition of bringing artwork to market that began in August 1949, when 15 trading posts submitted 10 of their best rugs to the museum to compete for prizes.

“The festival’s theme of ‘A Walk in Beauty’ describes the weekend’s experience well,” said Robert Breunig, MNA director. “It’s a lovely way to spend a high country summer day among the Flagstaff pines, here at the base of the San Francisco Peaks, or in Navajo, Doo’Ko’osliid.”

This year’s entertainment under the big tent is some of the region’s best, and there will surely be a monsoon shower or two.”

In a benefit for their school, the students already presented and screened some of their films July 16 during a cultural and musical event at Pepsi Amphitheater at Fort Tuthill.

“They just did the Fort Tuthill presentation, and this time my students will able to talk about their films, talk about the subjects and the process of making films,” Tso said. “For these kids to have an opportunity to do this at the museum, it’s just amazing.”

She said students sometimes opt to make a film instead of write a paper.

“Also, films are accessible; people are more willing to take five minutes to see a film than read a paper the kids have written,” she said.


The STAR School opened Sept. 10, 2001 (the day before 9/11), with 23 students in grades one through six. By the beginning of 2010, the school reached the maximum of 130 students pre-school through eighth grade.

It was an inspired way to beautify a roadside junkyard halfway between Flagstaff and the Navajo reservation community of Leupp.

The school’s name, STAR, stands for “Service to All Relations,” a concept common to Navajo and other Native American cultures that stresses accountability and care for an individual’s surroundings.

Founders Kate and Mark Sorenson, 20-year ranchers in the area, rely on solar power in their home and wanted to pass on the lifestyle to students, most of whom either live in rural homes near the school or in Leupp.

“We have built in green values from ancient times — to take care of the Earth,” said Mark Sorenson, who is the school director. “It’s so gratifying to be able to speak about our interconnectedness with all things.”

A federal grant from the Safe School/Healthy Students Initiative helps fund various programs at the school, including the peacemaking code at the school, which is demonstrated in the “Star Peace Making” film.

“We’re a place-based education school,” Sorenson said. “This area has a long history of having Navajo families, so, we have a philosophy that stems from the core values we find in Navajo peacemaking. It’s so wonderful to have their videos so they can show how they do it.”

He added values that come through Navajo are really universal.

The curriculum at STAR is also project-based. Projects vary and include building a greenhouse, planting gardens, tending wildlife and, of course, making films.

“The wonderful thing about the films is that they can be lessons to future students and to other people, like we are doing at the museum,” he said.

Betsey Bruner can be reached at or 556-2255.

Copyright 2011 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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7/28/2011 News Hawk: Southern California Water Leaders Challenged To Help Create a Groundwater Storage Plan

Southern California Water Leaders Challenged To Help Create a Groundwater Storage Plan By Mike Adams on Jul 28 2011 “We want to know what you want so the plan is done in the best interests of the end user, the water consumer.” Those were the words of Central Basin Municipal Water District General Manager Art Aguilar to a packed room of water industry, community and city leaders about the Central Basin Groundwater Storage Plan that Central Basin is preparing this year. The plan will address the ecological and financial impact of managing the groundwater basin that extends approximately 270 square miles within the Los Angeles coastal plain and is the primary source of water for more than 2.5 million residents in the region.

In Southern California, water management is a huge issue. About half of the water comes from the area and is stored underground. The rest is imported from the Colorado River and Northern California or is recycled water that is used for specific uses, like irrigating golf courses. Protecting the vital public resource of water is a very important responsibility and it’s a responsibility that Central Basin says is theirs.

“We have a statutory right and a civic obligation to create this plan with input from all our partners. We have been emphatic in saying give us the input and we’ll develop the plan from that input,” Aguilar stated.

Many questions from the audience were about specific elements of the plan, and Central Basin officials repeated Aguilar’s theme. The specific elements need to be developed with the stakeholders, including those attending today’s meeting.

“We will continue to have these meetings out in the public where everyone can participate. We have seen the negative effectives of what backroom deals and secrecy can do to a process like this, and we are absolutely committed to keeping this process transparent,” Aguilar told Newshawks Review after the meeting.

The meeting today was scheduled after Central Basin filed what is called a Notice of Preparation for a Program Environmental Impact Report (EIR) about the Groundwater Management plan. The NOP has been revised to include a longer project description; a change that Central Basin staff says was made in response to stakeholder feedback received in February. Central Basin’s plan is the first of its kind that will have an EIR of the Central Groundwater Basin, and as such will be the first plan to have an environmental analysis the basin.

The management of groundwater storage is a critical element in assuring that there is a future reliability of drinkable water to the 2.5 million residents Central Basin serves.

The Plan’s objectives are to protect the supply, maximize storage within the Basin, to protect local decision-making authority and local water rights as well as improving the reliability of supply during drought or emergencies.

One audience member asked why Central Basin was preparing a plan and the Southern California Water Replenishment District had already submitted a plan, which was rejected in Los Angeles courts.

Aguilar repeated that Central Basin has the statutory authority to create a storage plan and manage groundwater, and that it intends to do just that.

The current public comment period for the Program Environmental Impact Report will last until August 20th. Central Basin then said it will publish the draft report which will be reviewed by the public for 45 days and will include public meetings as part of that review process.

Central Basin said it expects the final report will be ready by December at which time it will hold public hearing with an anticipated approval of the Plan set for the first quarter of 2012.

“We have been and will continue to conduct an inclusive process where all of our stakeholders will be able to participate. The only way that the process will not be inclusive is if people choose not to participate,” Aguilar told the group.

Central Basin Water Resources Manager David Hill, who moderated today’s meeting, reminded the water managers and city officials of the importance of creating a plan that works for the residents of the region.

“To keep our region economically viable we have to do an even better job of conserving and having access to water. The Groundwater Storage Plan will address those issues in a very important and comprehensive way,” he said.

Reuters: UN slams Fukushima safety measures before tsunami

France 24: 24/7: REUTERS: UN slams Fukushima safety measures before tsunami: A report from the UN’s atomic energy agency criticised Japanese regulators Sunday for failing to assess and review steps taken at Fukushima after 2002 to protect against tsunamis. The report indicates several shortcomings before the March 11 tsunami. Japanese nuclear regulators failed to review and approve steps taken after 2002 to protect against tsunamis at the Fukushima plant and these proved insufficient to prevent the tidal wave disaster three months ago, a U.N. report showed. A detailed assessment by experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency – the first outside review of Japan’s nuclear crisis – suggested several shortcomings both before and after a tidal wave crippled the power station three months ago. But it also praised the way workers on the ground dealt with the situation at Fukushima Daiichi after the massive earthquake and huge tsunami devastated its reactors on March 11, triggering the world’s worst nuclear catastrophe in a quarter of a century.

Given the extreme circumstances it is doubtful “that any better solutions than the ones actually chosen could have been realistically implemented”, said the 160-page report, prepared for a ministerial nuclear safety meeting in Vienna next week.

A three-page summary was issued at the end of the 18-member team’s May 24-June 2 inspector mission to Japan. It said the country underestimated the threat from tsunamis to the Fukushima plant and urged sweeping changes to its regulatory system.

Japanese authorities have been criticised for failing to plan for a tsunami that would surge over the 5.7 metre (19-ft) wall at the nuclear power station in the country’s northeast, despite warnings that such a risk was looming.

The wave that crashed into the complex after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake was about 14 metres (46 feet) high.

In another setback to efforts to restore control over the quake-stricken plant, a rise in radiation halted the clean-up of radioactive water at Fukushima on Saturday only hours after it got under way. The full IAEA report said there had been “insufficient defence-in-depth provisions” for tsunami hazards, even though they had been considered in the design and siting of the plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco.

Decision delays

Extra protective steps were taken as a result of an evaluation after 2002 – the projected tsunami height was increased – but they were insufficient “to cope with the high tsunami run-up values and all associated hazardous phenomena”.

“Moreover, those additional protective measures were not reviewed and approved by the regulatory authority,” said the report. It added: “Severe accident management provisions were not adequate to cope with multiple plant failures.”

The document, obtained by Reuters, was submitted to IAEA member states on Friday but has not yet been made public.

At the June 20-24 IAEA-hosted meeting, some 150 nations will begin charting a strategy on boosting global nuclear safety, but differences on how much international action is needed may hamper follow-up efforts, diplomats say.

Japan’s crisis has prompted a rethink of energy policy around the world, underlined by Germany’s decision to shut down all its reactors by 2022 and an Italian vote to ban nuclear power for decades.

Three reactors at the Japanese complex went into meltdown when power and cooling functions failed, causing radiation leakage and forcing the evacuation of some 80,000 people.

Japanese officials have come under fire for their handling of the emergency and the authorities have admitted that lax standards and poor oversight contributed to the accident.

In 2007, the IAEA was ignored when it called on Japan to create a more powerful and independent nuclear regulator, and the report underlined the need for greater regulatory control.

“An updating of regulatory requirements and guidelines should be performed reflecting the experience and data obtained during the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami,” it said.

Japan has a well organised emergency preparedness and response system but “complicated structures and organisations can result in delays in urgent decision making”, it added.

The report also listed wider lessons for improving nuclear safety worldwide and help avert any repeat of the disaster, saying reactors should be built so that they can withstand rare and “complex combinations” of external threats.

France 24 International News 24/7: Protesters rally in Fukushima against nuclear power

France 24 International News 24/7: Protesters rally in Fukushima against nuclear power By News Wires: AFP – An estimated 1,700 people rallied in the capital of Japan’s Fukushima region, home to a crippled atomic power plant, on Sunday, calling for an end to nuclear energy, local media reported. “Abolish all the nuclear power plants!” and “Give radiation-free Fukushima back to us,” the demonstrators chanted as they marched in Fukushima City, some 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the nuclear plant. The rally, joined by residents evacuated from areas outside the Fukushima Daiichi plant, was organised by the Japan Congress Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs as part of its longtime campaign against nuclear weapons.

It was the first time that the leading anti-nuclear organisation staged a rally in Fukushima to observe the anniversaries of the World War II atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945.

“We have tended to focus on abolition of nuclear weapons while being weak in our campaign against nuclear power plants,” Koichi Kawano, a Nagasaki atomic-bomb survivor who heads the organising group, told the rally.

“Let there be no more nuclear plant accidents.”

A 9.0-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami ravaged the Fukushima plant on March 11, leading to radioactive leaks.

Hiromasa Yoshida, a 45-year-old school teacher evacuated from the town of Namie inside a 20-kilometre no-go zone outside the plant, told the rally: “Let us become the last victims of any nuclear plant accident.

“Now is the time to shift away from nuclear power generation.”

The organisation is due to hold similar rallies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the run-up to the 66th anniversaries of the bombings.

Beyond Reason: The Story of Depleted Uranium

Beyond Reason: The Story of Depleted Uranium

7/29/2011 NRDC Blog: With Media, Americans Focused on Debt Drama, Congress Attacks Environment

7/29/2011 NRDC: With Media, Americans Focused on Debt Drama, Congress Attacks Environment: Bob Keefe blog: It’s tough getting any news out of Washington these days that doesn’t involve the debt ceiling. Understandably, the political firestorm that has led our country to the brink of financial default has dominated headlines. With Washington and the world focused on the debt ceiling drama, hard-right House Republicans have launched the biggest congressional assault on the environment in history, attacking our fundamental environmental and public health protections in order to appease Tea Party ideologues and big business donors.

Weekends also find fewer Americans paying attention to what’s happening in Washington. And this weekend, the GOP-led House will take an unusual step and remain in session so they can take up more of the nearly 40 anti-environmental “riders” Republicans have attached to the Interior/EPA appropriations bill.

While you’re hopefully off enjoying the Great Outdoors, House Republicans will be pushing legislation that promises to destroy it.

Under GOP plans, coal mines will be able to dump more debris in our rivers and streams. Power plants and cement kilns will be able to pump more pollution into our air. And lands near the Grand Canyon could be opened for uranium mining.

Fortunately, the media is beginning to realize the unprecedented damage these anti-environmental riders could do to our environment and to America as we know it.

Leslie Kaufman of The New York Times picked up on the story Thursday.

“With the nation’s attention diverted by the drama over the debt ceiling, Republicans in the House of Representatives are loading up an appropriations bill 39 ways — and counting — to significantly curtail environmental regulation,” she points out.

The Washington Post’s Darryl Fears and Juliet Eilperin meanwhile, just logged in here.

In the Grand Canyon State, the Arizona Republic weighed in with one of the best editorials I’ve seen on what’s at stake.

“This bill does much more than just spread the pain of inevitable budget cuts,” the Republic writes. “It imposes changes that will undo things the American people want done. This is at odds with this nation’s commitment to preserving its astonishingly rich natural heritage.”

In Ohio, where the Cuyahoga River once caught on fire before we had the Clean Water Act that we (at least for now) still have, the Toledo Blade has describes the state of our the environment and our public health simply but succinctly: “Under Seige”

The debt ceiling and the separate deficit debate will likely be front page news for a while. Rightfully so.

But it’s important to look behind the top headlines of the day to see what our elected officials are doing when our attention is diverted.

Fortunately, the press is starting to make it clear what out-of-touch House members are doing to our environment and public health protections.

Hopefully, we’ll all pay attention.

7/7/2011 Navajo Times Census: Navajo enrollment tops 300,000

7/7/2011 Navajo Times: Census: Navajo enrollment tops 300,000 By Bill Donovan Special to the Times: WINDOW ROCK: It’s official. There are more than 300,000 enrolled members of the Navajo Nation. The tribe’s census office last week pegged tribal enrollment at 300,048, said Sherrick Roanhorse, chief of staff for President Ben Shelly. Tribal officials have been saying for most of the past decade that the tribe’s enrollment has been in the area of 300,000. This still doesn’t give the Navajos bragging rights as the largest Indian nation in the United States, however. That remains with the Cherokee. In August 2010, the Cherokee Nation gave its enrollment as 288,749, not including the Eastern Band, which accounted for another 13,000 plus members, for a total of about 302,000.

It should be pointed out that the two tribes figure membership differently. For Navajo Nation membership, a person must have one-quarter or more Navajo blood. The Cherokees require only that members be able to trace their ancestry back to someone listed on the Dawes Roll of 1907 – a membership list created by the Dawes Commission so the Cherokee reservation could be parceled out in individual allotments. The Cherokee tribe has no blood quantum requirement for membership.

The big question within the Navajo universe is how many tribal members live on the reservation and how many can be considered urban Navajos.

Roanhorse said the tribe will have a better grasp of that once the U.S. Census Office releases its 2010 population figures for the Navajo Reservation. Those figures are expected soon. The U.S. Census Bureau has said it will release population figures for Arizona on July 17 and they will include an ethnic breakdown. New Mexico and Utah figures are expected to follow shortly thereafter.

The expectation is that federal census figures will show for the first time that more Navajos live off the reservation than on it. But even these figures, said Roanhorse, would be misleading because many Navajos who live in cities still have a presence on the reservation, coming back regularly to take care of family matters or to participate in ceremonies and family gatherings.

The new enrollment figure, however, also indicates that Navajo Nation officials have a daunting task to carry out plans to provide every tribal member with an identity card within the next 18 to 24 months.

The tribe has been talking about this for the past several years and is planning to embark on a program similar to the one established by the Pascua Yaqui, who have a small reservation southwest of Tucson.

Thanks to a 2009 memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Customs Office, the Pascua Yaqui ID card serves as a passport for tribal members crossing the border between the U.S. and Mexico, where most tribal members live.

Roanhorse said the Navajo tribal card would be used in the same way. Besides having information coded on a bar strip giving medical history and some personal background, the card will have enough data to allow its use as a passport to countries like Mexico and Canada.

Another advantage of the card, he said, is that it will enable the tribal government to learn whenever a tribal member gets in trouble with the law and may need tribal assistance, such as help finding a lawyer or contacting family members.

The tribe is now in the final stages of developing the card. When it is ready, it will be made available to tribal members at no cost.

Science Daily: Water wars: 21st century conflicts?

Science Daily: Water wars: 21st century conflicts? Al Jazeera.: Almost half of humanity will face water scarcity by 2030 and strategists from Israel to Central Asia prepare for strife. Governments and military planners around the world are aware of the impending problem; with the US senate issuing reports with names like Avoiding Water Wars: Water Scarcity and Central Asia’s growing Importance for Stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

With rapid population growth, and increased industrial demand, water withdrawls have tripled over the last 50 years, according to UN figures.”The war was also a reason why we left,” Hassain said. “There was a lot of fighting near my village.”

“Water scarcity is an issue exacerbated by demographic pressures, climate change and pollution,” said Ignacio Saiz, director of Centre for Economic and Social Rights, a social justice group. “The world’s water supplies should guarantee every member of the population to cover their personal and domestic needs.

7/28/2011 Navajo Times: 142 face charges in slush fund scandal Delegates: Special prosecutor overstepped authority

7/28/2011 Navajo Times: 142 face charges in slush fund scandal Delegates: Special prosecutor overstepped authority By Bill Donovan Special to the Times: WINDOW ROCK, July 28, 2011: he Navajo Nation’s special prosecutor on Thursday carried through with his plans to file civil suits against members of the Navajo Nation Council in connection with allegations that they converted millions of dollars in discretionary funds to their own use. These replace the criminal charges Alan Balaran filed earlier against 77 former and present members of the Council and then dismissed them.

This time he charged all members of the 21st Navajo Nation Council who served in office between 2007 and 2011, as well as former President Joe Shirley Jr., former Attorney General Louis Denetsosie, the current attorney general, Harrison Tsosie, and the controller, Mark Grant.

He also lists “John Does 1-50,” unknown individuals and employees who had a part in the illegal distribution of discretionary funds.

The total number of individuals facing charges is 142.

Discretionary funds were money allocated to delegates and the president’s office to provide assistance to citizens in need.

The suit goes after the former and current members of the Navajo Nation government for actions that “covertly manipulated and converted Navajo, federal and state funds resulting in a disparity of wealth whereby the vast majority of the Nation lives precipitously on the edge of poverty while those in positions of authority have amassed considerable wealth.”

In short, instead of promoting the well-being of their constituents, the civil suit claims they practiced the “art of self-dealing, ineptitude and secrecy.”

According to the suit, each member of the Navajo Nation Council received approximately $250,000 between 2005 and 2010, which they “unlawfully appropriated to themselves, their families, friends, other delegates and their friends, resulting in a total unlawful expenditure of tens of millions of dollars of the Navajo Nation.”

The lawsuit also indicates that the Council delegates may have also violated federal IRS laws when they adopted a policy a month after the fund was created that eliminated the requirement that the awards be reported to the IRS.

“In one sampling of awards, the (delegates) gave more than $2 million to 130 recipients with little regard to the beneficiary’s indigency,” the suit states. “These recipients were given checks in amounts ranging from $10,000 to $54,000.”

Another sampling showed that family members of 14 delegates received awards ranging from $51,000 to $130,000.

Shirley was named because he did not carry out his fiduciary duties to the Navajo people when he was president by approving the resolutions passed by the Navajo Nation Council that allowed the council delegates to acquire the discretionary funds.

Grant was also named because as controller he had a duty to see that tribal funds were handled in a proper manner.

He was also accused of promoting incompetent fiscal management, which resulted in the tribe having to return more than $100 million in federal and state grants between 2005 and 2009.

Denetsosie’s charges stemmed from signing contracts with the law firm of Gallagher and Kennedy to provide legal services for Shirley in his dealings with the special prosecutor. By doing this, he acted outside his scope of employment and tried to impede the special prosecutor’s investigation.

Tsosie’s charges stemmed from signing of the same contracts.

Within hours of the charges being filed, several members of the Council went on the attack, holding a noontime press conference Friday in front of the Council Chamber.

Speaker Johnny Naize said after looking at the language in the lawsuit he felt that Balaran’s charges were cast so broadly “that almost anyone doing business with the Navajo Nation government is guilty, from tribal employees to constituents.”

He said he had strong suspicions of why Balaran is targeting the tribe’s leadership and it has to do with the money he is making as special prosecutor.

So far, Naize said, Balaran has billed the tribe more than $1.1 million which has “only netted a group of allegations that were reduced from criminal charges to civil charges.”

So far, Naize said, no tribal court has acted on them and all of these charges continue to sit in limbo.

He stressed that despite all of Balaran’s attempts to undermine the tribal government, the government continues to operate.

Delegate LoRenzo Bates said he felt Balaran’s lawsuit exhibits vengeance against those who acted against him.

He also pointed out that since this is a civil suit, it could go on for years and become a drain on the Navajo people’s money at a time when funds are needed for other purposes.

Delegate Katherine Benally said she was so upset at Balaran’s false accusations against her that she was considering filing a countersuit against him.

Delegate Leonard Tsosie disagreed with the lawsuit’s figures that each Council delegate received $250,000 in discretionary funds, saying he never received that much.

He and others argued that Balaran exceeded his authority as special prosecutor and has failed to do what he was originally hired to do – look into the misuse of funds in the BCDS and OnSat scandals.

This was also pointed out by another delegate, Jonathan Nez, who said that in the BCDS scandal, a non-Indian made off with $4.4 million and is now vacationing on the tribe’s money and Balaran is doing nothing about it.

They all questioned whether Balaran was actually working to benefit the Navajo people and whether he was just another non-Indian who is trying to acquire as much Navajo money as he can before he heads back home.