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Navajo president: Failing to pass tribal water rights settlement would be 'another form of genocide'

Coverage of tribal natural resources is supported in part by Catena Foundation

The president of the Navajo Nation has signed the resolution approving the historic Northeastern Arizona Indian Water Rights Settlement Agreement. In doing so, he joined officials from the Hopi and San Juan Paiute tribes.

Before the historic signing, Navajo speaker Crystalyne Curley pointed out how many Navajo live off 10 to 30 gallons of water a day, a fraction of the average American home. 

"Just even having the efficiency, the convenience of turning on a faucet of water, that’s something that’s going to change the livelihoods of many of our Navajo people," she said.

Navajo president Buu Nygren said the tribes need the agreement to survive.

"Through COVID, through all the national news over the last several years, people truly understand the need for water on Navajo," Nygren said.

But Nygren warned: If we don’t settle the water rights for the Navajo Nation, the Hopi tribe and the San Juan Paiute, it’s just another form of genocide."

The agreement still requires congressional approval. The more than $5 billion would go toward building infrastructure like a massive Lake Powell pipeline to remote communities. 

For the San Juan Paiute tribe, the agreement is historic not only for its water access — the agreement establishes a reservation for them.

"The reservation will allow us a place to build adequate housing for our people and give everyone a safe place to live and raise their families," said Robbin Preston, president of the San Juan Paiute Tribe.

The water rights agreement ratifies a treaty the tribe made with the Navajo Nation in 2000.

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Fronteras Desk senior editor Michel Marizco is an award-winning investigative reporter based in Flagstaff.