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
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
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
"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
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
"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,"
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
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
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.