KNAU and Arizona News
9:33 pm
Fri June 15, 2012

Hopi Tribal Council debates Little Colorado water settlement

The Hopi Tribal Council is debating two bills today -- one opposing a water settlement of the Little Colorado River and the other endorsing it.

Former Hopi leaders asked the Tribal Council to reject  the controversial water settlement bill.

The meeting had to be moved to accommodate more than 100 people.

At issue is legislation in Congress that would settle Hopi and Navajo claims to the Little Colorado River.

The former leaders argued that the Tribal Council must reject the bill sponsored by Arizona's U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl because a majority of villages are against it.

Former Hopi Vice Chairman Phillip Quochytewa likens the water settlement to an aboriginal land settlement in the 1970s in which, he says, the Hopi people did not understand what they were giving away.

"I think the water belongs to the Hopi because we were here from time immemorial," he says.

Former Hopi Chairman Ben Nuvamsa advocated the tribe continuing its fight for rights to the Little Colorado in state court.

But Hopi Chairman Leroy Shingoitewa says he doubts the tribe would prevail.

"It's a start court, and state courts have not been favorable to Indian tribes in terms of water," he says.

Former Hopi Vice Chairman Cliff Qotsaquahu says people don't understand the bill. He challenged Sen. Kyl to explain it to the Hopi in person.

Kyl has said time is running out for him to advocate for the $350 million settlement before he retires from the Senate in January.