Tag Archives: Navajo Nation

EPA Plans For Better Cleanup After Gold King Mine Spill

A year after the Gold King Mine spilled three million gallons of toxic chemicals into the Animas River, the EPA last week announced the site as a Superfund site, where a polluted area is required for a long-term cleanup and becomes eligible for federal funding to do so. With the Bonita Peak Mining District now on the National Priorities List, the agency will devote $1 billion for better investigating and addressing contamination concerns for those along the San Juan River, including the Navajo Nation who are still waiting for compensation for lost crops and reassurance of the water’s quality. The Navajo Nation is hesitant  to use any water for farming and livestock, as they are skeptical of the water’s safety and concerned with long-term health effects from the spill.

The EPA’s announcement comes a few weeks after the Navajo Nation sued them for an insufficient cleanup after the Gold King Mine Spill and the lack of compensation for lost crops for a year. Almost 3,000 farms and ranches were affected as they stopped irrigating from the river and crops dried up and livestock were sold due to lacking resources to maintain them. Some remain doubtful that the river will ever be restored with lacking reassurances of safety and over a century’s worth of mining affecting the area with hundreds of abandoned mines near the Animas River which were poorly constructed and managed.

Even a bipartisan group of senators want to expedite the reimbursement to those affected by the Gold King Mine Spill. They introduced an amendment to the Water Resources Development Act which would force the EPA to pay eligible claims made after October 2015 within 90 days. County officials, local companies and individuals through the states of Colorado, New Mexico and Utah are still waiting for thousands of dollars worth of reimbursement with some only being paid in part and others receiving nothing so far.

While these issues should have been addressed long ago with the EPA taking responsibility for the Gold King Mine Spill, it is a relief to environmental and tribal activists that the agency will better assess the damage and devote what will likely be 10 years into cleanup of the Animas and San Juan Rivers. The Navajo Nation had to wait for far too long for their concerns to be properly addressed with their livelihoods at stake. It seems that the EPA is finally taking full, genuine accountability for the Gold King Mine Spill and will address the increasing complaints.

With a newfound hope for the Navajo and their livelihood to be fully restored, these developments from the EPA are the course of action we need to see in light of the Dakota Access Pipeline which will threaten the water supply of the Standing Rock Tribe and the 18 million people living downstream. While the Obama Administration temporarily halted construction near the reservation, Energy Transfer CEO Kelcy Warren announced that 60 percent of the pipeline is finished and vows to complete construction, saying that “concerns about the pipeline’s impact on the local water supply are unfounded.” The violation of basic human rights will not be ignored and the voices against the pipeline will only become louder until construction halts indefinitely and Energy Transfer accepts accountability.


Voice your opposition to the DAPL by signing onto these petitions:

Earth Justice: https://secure.earthjustice.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=1861&_ga=1.188139371.296617086.1429319754

Change.org: https://www.change.org/p/jo-ellen-darcy-stop-the-dakota-access-pipeline


Image Source: http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/news/navajo-nation-sues-federal-government-for-gold-king-mine-spill-8556166 [Photographer: Jerry McBride]


Navajo Nation Sues EPA for Neglect in Toxic Spill

After waiting a year for compensation, the Navajo Nation sued the EPA last week for the Gold King Mine Spill of August 2015 when three million gallons of toxic waste contaminated the Animas and San Juan Rivers. Contracted workers from the EPA were trying to drain the toxic water from a dam when it ruptured from built up pressure and leaked into the rivers from Colorado to Utah and New Mexico. The chemicals turned the water yellow and made it unsafe for drinking or farming.

“For nearly two days, the USEPA did not call, alert or notify the Nation that this toxic sludge had been released and was headed into their waters and land,” the Navajo Nation said in their 48-page complaint. Even when they were alerted of the spill, they were not told details as to when it would arrive and how long it would last. This was especially concerning to more secluded communities which are farther away from outside resources like Mexican Water, Utah and waited weeks until EPA crews came out to assess damage in the area.

The color faded and the EPA reported the river was restoring itself and  was safe for use two weeks after the spill began. However, Navajo President Russell Begaye warned residents against using the water with concerns of toxins remaining in the sediment until the Nation conducted their own analysis of the river, indicating distrust in the EPA. Tanks of non-potable water were taken to farmers as an alternative to sustain their crops and livestock, yet by then approximately 2,000 Navajo farmers along the river had their crops dry up after they stopped using irrigation pumps.

Two months after the incident, the Department of Interior found in their 132-page report that the spill resulted from improperly rushed and insufficient engineering which didn’t even consider possible consequences if something went wrong. Therefore, the spill could have been prevented in the first place.

Despite the EPA taking full responsibility, there have still been no significant efforts for proper clean-ups, compensation for lost crops or health protection for the Navajo. The Nation still worries about long term health effects, including eating produce or livestock that has come into contact with the contaminated water. The health concerns also prevented farmers from effectively selling their produce, resulting in loss in profits.

The aftermath of the Gold King Mine Spill parallels to concerns of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which faces stalled construction on the Standing Rock Sioux’s land. From the EPA to the Army Corps of Engineers, these organizations show almost no real concern to the potential damage affecting these people and their environment. If construction isn’t stopped now, history will repeat itself as another tribe’s livelihood faces disaster.


Image source: http://www.mining.com/navajo-sues-epa-over-gold-king-mine-spill/


STOP Act aims to stop export of Native American items

A recent resolution to increase penalties for exporting Native American artifacts has been steadily gaining momentum with bipartisan lawmakers and tribal entities.

The Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony bill — called the STOP Act — was introduced by New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich (D) earlier this month and hastily gained the support of Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Tom Udall (D-NM).

The legislation was drafted in response to the highly-controversial auction in Paris last May. The event, held at the EVE auction house, had Navajo, Hopi, and Acoma Pueblo artifacts for sale, among others. International outrage over the event spurred an emergency meeting May 30 at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, between tribal leaders, NGO officials, and governmental representatives.

Along with multiple protests against EVE, the meeting resulted in the removal of the shield from the auction block by June. While artifacts can be auctioned in France if they were obtained legally, the sacred Acoma Pueblo shield was pulled due to claims it was stolen from an Acoma family several decades ago.

However, many other Native American artifacts, endowed with sacred meaning to the communities they belong to, were sold to European attendees and art collectors worldwide. This destructive practice has robbed many native communities in the U.S. of their sacred material culture.

In the last few weeks, other senators from both sides of the aisle have cosponsored the STOP Act, including Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.),

McCain’s support is welcomed but surprising, given in 2014 he helped in facilitating the sale of Oak Flats in Arizona, a sacred site to the Apache. 


The senator, despite having sold off sacred land to benefit his own political career, has publicly affirmed the need to keep cultural artifacts connected to Native American communities, saying “Congress must impose stiffer penalties to stop these sacred items from being lost forever.”

If passed, the STOP Act would increase the penalty of illegally exporting objects in violation of NAGPRA (the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act), the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, or the Antiquities Act to a maximum of ten years in prison as well as punitive fines. It also includes a clause providing amnesty for anyone who comes forward with objects of Native American patrimony and returns them to the appropriate tribe or family in a two-year period.

Before it enters the Senate floor, it will go before the Committee on Indian Affairs. Passage of the act would create an inter-tribal council, which will be tasked with assisting the federal government in assessing the severity of black market trafficking of sacred objects, as well as finding solutions to halt the widespread issue.

“These culturally significant and historical objects belong with the tribes, not the highest bidder.”, said Senator Flint in a press release.

As of now, there are few legal avenues a nation or tribal community can take to get a sacred item or artifact back to their lands, especially once it has crossed the sea. The STOP Act could create a statute to prosecute the crime of stealing, smuggling, and profiting off of Native American patrimony.

Legally, the framework proposed by the STOP Act gives access to tribal communities to seek federal prosecution for violations of the law, as well as critical protection of significant cultural material and the heritage they represent.

The Navajo Nation passed a resolution in support of the measure, with many tribal governments and organizations formally endorsing the STOP Act in the last several weeks.

Navajo Nation Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates said in a press conference that his community “has consistently sought to repatriate sacred objects, as well as protect our sacred sites, land, culture, language and way of life.”

It is imperative for indigenous rights that the federal government move this bill forward and remain engaged on the issue of trafficked Native American artifacts. For indigenous communities, objects of patrimony are key to connecting the past and present, and preserving cultural wisdom for future generations.

Sacred objects should remain with the communities of their origin, and the importance of their repatriation and protection cannot be understated.


Image: http://www.indianz.com/News/2016/07/11/cronkite-news-sen-mccain-signs-onto-bill.asp?print=1 [If you haven’t already check out indianz.com!!!]

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Navajo Trademark Not “Famous” Enough Says Judge

In an ongoing battle against misrepresentation, the Navajo Nation took a hit earlier this month as they lost two counts in their lawsuit against Urban Outfitters.

In 2012, the Navajo Nation sued Urban Outfitters for its line of “Navajo” styled merchandise from panties to flasks, which was first released in 2001. This violates the Navajo trademark and the Indian Arts and Crafts Act which illegalizes selling arts and crafts that falsely suggest they were created by Native Americans. The Navajo Nation demanded either all the profits from the items labeled as “Navajo” or $1,000 per day that the items were sold.

U.S. District Judge Bruce Black in New Mexico dismissed those two counts against Urban Outfitters in May, saying that the trademark was not “famous” enough and siding with Urban Outfitters’ argument that Navajo is just a generic name for a style.

Navajo isn’t a trend, it’s the name of an entire culture and people dating back hundreds of years before hipster clothing. It’s deplorable that companies like Urban Outfitters can get away with this form of exploitation—they’re making money by using Navajo to describe their goods, and at the same time they’re m2011-10_Urban-Outfitters-Navajo-Hipster-Panty.0isleading their customers into thinking they are purchasing Navajo-made products.

With more than 300 thousand enrolled members, the Navajo Nation is the second largest federally recognized tribe in the United States. How is that “not famous enough” to have their trademark, which was registered in 1943 to ensure consumers won’t buy knockoff Navajo products, respected?

Even though Urban Outfitters relabeled and removed their “Navajo” products, they and their sister companies, Anthropologie and Free People, still sell products described as “tribal.” On Free People alone, they currently sell more than 90 products labeled as “tribal.” It just goes to show how little Urban Outfitters cares about respecting Native American culture, which sadly isn’t too surprising given their history of insensitive clothing alluding to events like the Holocaust or the Kent State Massacre.

However, the fight is not over just yet. The Navajo Nation still has six more counts in the case against Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie and Free People for trademark infringement, unfair competition and false advertising.


Image Source: https://www.yahoo.com/style/navajo-nations-case-against-urban-150700793.html

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Please sign our petition calling for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission: http://lakotalaw.org/action

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