Longest Walkers declare opposition to Desert Rock

By Cindy Yurth. Tséyi' Bureau, Navajo Times, April 10, 2008

CHACO RIO, N.M. - It was tempting to think it was the most people ever gathered on this barren stretch of gray desert near Burnham, N.M.

But maybe not - after all, we weren't far from the ancient trade and cultural center of Chaco Canyon, where thousands of people routinely gathered a thousand years ago.

At any rate, the phrase "middle of nowhere," cliché as it is, kept coming to mind. Not so remote, however, that the trash-collecting contingent of the Longest Walk 2 couldn't fill several bags Sunday
while following the rutted double-track to Dooda Desert Rock's new camp.

To Elouise Brown, founder of the local group protesting the planned construction of a 1,500-megawatt coal-fired power plant near this site, it is not barren gray desert. It is the land that has sustained her family for generations, and it's full of hidden springs and sacred sites.

Sites like the family burial plot she pointed out as the 150-odd walkers, maybe 30 of them Navajo, processed from the BIA road to the camp.

Dennis Banks, who is leading the southern route of the Longest Walk 2, admitted he almost skipped this 84-mile detour from Window Rock, where the walkers were officially welcomed to the Navajo Nation Friday and Saturday with a feast, speeches and traditional dancing.

"Tashina (Banks' daughter) told me they were having a music festival," the 75-year-old leader said. "I thought that meant, you know, the F-word every other word."

Banks then put the crowd in stitches with an impromptu rendition of a modern rap song.

He needn't have worried - some of the acts at the Mother Earth Father Sky Music Festival would have been right at home in 1968, the year Banks, Clyde Bellecourt, George Mitchell and others formed the American Indian Movement.

Mutual support

And, after seeing the site and learning about the proposed Desert Rock plant, Banks pledged the Longest Walk's support to Dooda Desert Rock.

"We will come back here to camp if necessary," he told the crowd. "We will go to Washington, we will go to the United Nations, we will knock on every door, we will cross every river, to show them the abuse that's about to happen."

Brown, in turn, pledged to support the Longest Walk 2 - a 143-day trek across the country to raise awareness of environmental issues and Native sacred sites.

"We will accompany you to the Texas border," Brown told the walkers, "and we will meet you in Washington."

The walk will culminate July 11 in Washington, D.C. when participants present Congress with a manifesto of issues they have collected along the way.

Brown assured the walkers their efforts would not be in vain.

"I'm telling you from the horse's mouth, this power plant is not going to happen," she said.

The plant, which has been on the drawing board since 2003, does seem
to have hit a few roadblocks.

The Environmental Protection Agency has not yet issued an emissions permit, for which Desert Rock Energy Co. applied in 2004. The Diné Power Authority and Desert Rock have sued the EPA noting that the Clean Air Act calls for a decision within a year of the application.

Meanwhile, Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment and the San Juan Citizens Alliance have filed a lawsuit against the BIA claiming the agency improperly withheld supporting documents used for its environmental impact statement on the project.

The groups sought the documents under the federal Freedom of Information Act (see separate story). That suit also questions the relationship between URS, one of the companies involved in preparing the EIS, and Desert Rock owner Sithe Global Power of Houston.

The draft EIS concluded that the project would have some impact on the environment, but not enough to justify stopping it. Dooda Desert Rock's attorney, James Zion, has also attacked the EIS, saying it fails to include health data as mandated by federal law.

Also weighing into the equation is a bill recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that would put a moratorium on any new power plant built without controls on global warming emissions.

Sithe Global spokesman Frank Maisano, reached Tuesday at his Washington, D.C., office, said he's "not surprised" that Longest Walk
participants are siding with Dooda.

"We respect their right to have an opinion on this," Maisano said.

"Obviously they've been taken in by the case that many of the local groups are making. The reality is that that puts them in conflict not only with the tribal government, who overwhelmingly supports Desert Rock, but President (Joe) Shirley."

Prez a no-show

Shirley was conspicuously absent from both the Window Rock welcome ceremony and the Desert Rock event, "because he was conspicuously not invited," according to his spokesman, George Hardeen.

Anna Rondon, Arizona coordinator for the Longest Walk 2, said she had expected the president's office to help organize the welcome reception, but that Shirley declined to sign a proclamation she had written in support of the Longest Walk.

Still, she said, she was hoping he would show up at the reception.

"I wouldn't think the president of our nation would need an invitation," she said. "The ceremony was open to anybody. We didn't invite Speaker (Lawrence T.) Morgan either, he just volunteered to
organize it."

Hardeen said the president's non-attendance had nothing to do with politics.

"There's lots of people who don't like Desert Rock who the president talks to," Hardeen said. "The (Navajo Nation) speaker is in support of Desert Rock, and he was there."

In addition to helping organize the welcome ceremony, Morgan sponsored the dinner in Window Rock.

Even if Shirley had been invited, Hardeen said, he couldn't have attended - he was in negotiations with another tribe over slot machines to be used in the Navajo Nation's first casino, scheduled to
be built this year.

The walkers have been in Crownpoint since Tuesday, meeting at Navajo Technical College for a panel discussion titled "All Life is Sacred" and community input.

They were scheduled to depart for Albuquerque this morning (Thursday), where local supporters have organized a fundraiser and outreach campaign Friday, April 11, from 4 to 9 p.m. at the Civic Plaza.

Information: www.longestwalk.org.




Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law. http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.html