Protesters held up signs and booed as Arizona Senators Jon Kyl and John McCain visited Tuba City Thursday.
The senators were in Tuba City to discuss details of their water settlement bill with Navajo and Hopi officials.
The $300 million bill would cede the tribe’s claims to the Little Colorado River in exchange for three water development projects in reservation communities where many lack running water.
But the bill is unpopular with many, even those who live in communities that would get drinking water.
“Why didn’t they involve the public? This is their land. This is their water,” asks former Navajo Nation President Milton Bluehouse. “ I believe there is a vast violation of human rights.”
Bluehouse says he was pushed by Navajo Police when he tried to enter the closed-door meeting between the senators, the Navajo president and vice president, and members of the Tribal Council.
Outside, confrontations with police also threatened to erupt as the crowd waited for the senators to emerge.
Protesters shouted, “No deal!” and “Kill the bill!”
Many wondered why the water deal requires tribal officials to approve leases with Navajo Generating Station in exchange for water projects.
Marshall Johnson of Black Mesa, Arizona, says the tribe needs to first quantify how much water it is entitled to under federal law.
“If we quantify our water, we could get agribusiness here,” he says. “Then we can have economic development.”
Navajo President Ben Shelly, who at first supported the bill, appeared to back pedal on Thursday.
He told an angry crowd demanding his ousters that the Navajo Nation won’t agree to the plan unless tribal members are OK with it.
“Trust me,” he told one man in the crowd. “You are going to take part in it. You will not be left out! You need water, and I will do it!
Senator Kyl issued a statement that dismissed criticism of the bill, calling it misinformation.
He hopes to get the legislation passed before he retires next year.
Meanwhile, Shelly has announced he will hold public hearings on the bill throughout April.