The Navajo Nation is asking for the designation of Cedar Mesa in Utah as a National Conservation Area through the federal government. Why do you think that is necessary?
Whenever you discuss public lands with Native Americans and Non-Native Americans in San Juan County, Utah, there is a distinct difference between the groups. Non-Native Americans often associate roads when they discuss public land issues. When Native Americans discuss land issues, they are very specific about nature, animals, water, plant life and other species and cultural values associated with the land.
We recently published the Dine’ Bikeyah, which means “Land of the Navajo People.” The book is a compilation of stories from our Elders about the sacred and cultural nature of Cedar Mesa, along with information to support the designation as an NCA. We have a website at www.utahdinebikeyah.org that provides information about Cedar Mesa and explains why our people want to be involved in and help manage the public lands they share.
Who is supporting the designation in Congress?
This is a question that is too early to gage, but once a bill is introduced in Congress then we should know who supports the land bill from the 50 states. Currently, we are working with the Utah congressional delegation to gather understanding and support for the designation.
How long will it take for the designation to take effect?
It should take about a year to set up the program. It might take longer because you have to consider two sovereign governments, that each has separate laws and policies that have to be coordinated to establish a NCA.
How does water resource management fit into that designation?
The southern portion of the county’s designation area includes San Juan River. There is a current negotiation to settle the Navajo Nation water rights by the State of Utah and the Navajo Nation. The water rights settlements involve the San Juan River and tributaries in New Mexico, Utah and Arizona. This negotiation is known as the Utah Navajo Water Settlement. It is expected to settle the rights for about 80,000 acre-feet of water.
With such an arid area, how can the Chapters (similar to villages or counties) provide water to their people effectively?
The Chapters on the Utah portion of the Navajo Reservation are in the process of preparing for the Water Settlement by developing a water master study with a short and long range plan. This plan will allow the Navajo Nation to care for our people in a more comprehensive way.
What kind of help do you need from the federal government?
We need a senator or congressman to sponsor the Utah Navajo Water Settlement Bill in Washington in order to obtain the necessary funding for the water projects or construction as recommended by the water master plan.