Water is life
Kennedy serves as watchdog over water abuses

By Sararesa Begay
The Navajo Times

FLAGSTAFF | Sept. 25, 2002

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. stared pensively at the barren stretch of land visible through the small window of the turbine engine aircraft that flew over the Black Mesa Peabody Coal Mine area the morning of Sept. 19.

The now brown Black Mesa land which looks plain and flat from the air used to be beautiful with Juniper, Pinon, Gamble Oak, Ponderosa, Douglas Fir and Red Cedar trees, and green, lush vegetation, according to Dave Beckman, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Beckman noted the Peabody's coal strip-mining activities, and their "squandering" of the Navajo Aquifer which is the sole source of naturally occurring drinking water for the Hopi reservation and sections of the Navajo reservation on and near Black Mesa.

Kennedy, a founder of the Waterkeeper Alliance and son of the late Robert F. Kennedy Sr., thought of his Hopi friend, Vernon Masayesva, who is the founder of the Black Mesa Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the Navajo Aquifer.

"It's hard to say no to Vernon," Kennedy said to the other passengers in the aircraft.

Kennedy and the other passengers on the flyover learned more about the aquifer which also supplies hundreds of natural springs that have long been at the center of the religious and cultural life of both the Hopi and Navajo people.

Currently, Peabody is seeking approval to pump 1.8 billion gallons of water from the Navajo Aquifer each year to send coal by a slurry pipeline across Arizona from the Black Mesa Mine to the Mohave Generating Plant in Nevada.

The night before Kennedy inducted the Black Mesa Trust into Kennedy's Waterkeeper Alliance at a reception and benefit art auction in Flagstaff.

The alliance's mission is to protect and restore the quality of the world's waterways by different types of strategies and campaigns.
The alliance is comprised of more than 85 programs located throughout North and Central America, and other parts of the world, Kennedy said.

The movement is among the fastest growing grassroots environmental movements and quickly is becoming a unique force for environmental change, according to Kennedy.
Currently, Peabody Coal uses more than 4,000-acre feet a year of pristine Navajo Aquifer water to slurry coal to the Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin, Nev.

Kennedy said he has a special connection to the Native American people because his late father used to take his children to visit reservations especially those in South Dakota.

"I feel at home on Indian territories," Kennedy said during the reception. "I'm one of 11 children, and my dad would take one of us on his travels, and he would take us to the Indian reservations."

Kennedy said he remembers the first time he saw his father weep.

"One memorable trip was to the Pine Ridge reservation where my dad came across a broken down, dilapidated car with no wheels ... there was an entire Sioux family living in that broken down car.

"My dad wept," Kennedy said. "I never saw my dad do that (weep), but he did this time ... my dad couldn't reconcile the condition of the American Indian in this democratic society."

Kennedy noted that today the Native American people don't have gunmen who take their rights and empowerment away. Rather, it is the attorneys working for corporations like Peabody Coal Mine.

Kennedy said he fights for environmental justice and safe water for everyone because he wants to leave something for the next generation.
"My life will be rich, and my children's children lives will be richer," Kennedy said.

"They are part of the community ... we have an obligation to the next generation. We have to leave enough water that is sustainable for our children."

Kennedy, Anishinaabe activist/author Winona LaDuke, actor Jon Voight and attorney Charles Wilkinson were special guests during the Black Mesa Trust reception.

For more information on the Black Mesa Trust view their Web site at www.blackmesatrust.org or the Waterkeeper Alliance at www.keeper.org.


© 2002, by The Navajo Times.

Reprinted under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law.