Navajo Activists Win Victory, Open Tribal Coal Talks to Public

Navajo activist Anna Frazier and others are credited in news reports with convincing the Navajo Nation tribal government for the first time for opening to the public its negotiations with Peabody Energy over its royalty rates for coal extracted at Black Mesa’s Kayenta mine.

“Pressure from community members like Frazier induced the Navajo government to negotiate the lease in public. And that reflects a growing environmental activism among tribal citizens, who are asking more questions about Peabody and their Nation’s reliance on coal. They also have stepped up their organizing. The proposed public hearings on the coal lease is the latest in a series of victories won by Navajo citizens over the last few years.”

The press report claims this demonstrates “a steady chipping away at the authority of the Navajo tribal government and greater participation by citizens as political decision-makers, especially on the contentious issue of transitioning away from a coal-based economy. . . .

The decision has raised eyebrows. Andy Bessler, southwest coordinator for the Sierra Club based in Flagstaff, Ariz., says the move is significant because it shows tribal citizens are demanding a new level of transparency in the tribe’s relationship with Peabody.

The coal lies beneath Black Mesa, in northeastern Arizona, part of the sacred ancestral land of both the Navajo and Hopi. Jointly owned by both tribes, the coal found there is highly prized for its low sulfur and high BTU. But Frazier and other tribal members say regular Navajos and Hopi have not benefited from sales of Black Mesa coal. The royalties the Navajo Nation receives from Peabody are now capped at 12.5 percent of the market price of coal. Peabody earned $6 billion in revenues last year. . . .”

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