Navajo Look for Solution to Their Tale of Two Cities

Horseherder, second from left, with grandmother and daughters. Credit: Sonia Narang/PRI.

Dickens said, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” There are few truer or more timeless words written. While the economy is in recovery and unemployment numbers are at a record low, there are many people and places that are facing the worst of times. The Environmental Protection Act and emissions regulations are being dissipated at a time when the Navajo Nation has no choice but to take an immediate hit to their wallets or take a massive loss to their future–financially and environmentally. Fortunately, women like Nicole Horseherder, aren’t going to take those hits lying down.

Horseherder has been imploring tribal leaders and hard-working miners to not be short-sighted when it comes to their health and financial rewards. The Navajo Generating Station, which employs the Navajo in the four corners of New Mexico and Arizona, is facing closure. A bill has been drafted by Rep. Paul Goser of Arizona to help the Navajo nation keep its plant, stating that it is in the best interest of the tribes. While tribal members like Horseherder, futuristic visionaries and environmental advocates, see the writing on the proverbial wall. NGS may stay open and people will have jobs for the short term, but they may be selling their souls to the devil because tribes will no longer have access to reports that measure air quality and damage to water resources, wildlife, and people’s health.

Even though coal production is being passed over for other clean energy options, Horseherder is fighting an uphill battle with traditionalists who fear for their jobs. While Horseherder doesn’t dismiss the financial hardships of the plant closing, she argues that the damage caused to the resources on Navajo lands and the health risks are far more disconcerting than those of the short-term economic loss.

As with many regions where coal mining is prevalent, the people are clearly suffering health wise from the pollutants in the air and water, not to mention the depletion of water sources in the region. Horseherder also argues that the nation will lose out on a brighter future if they forego an opportunity to jump in and be a part of clean and sustainable energy practices that could help the people of the Navajo nation financially, environmentally, and physically.

It is a no-win in the short term, the worst of times, for the Navajo. Whistleblower, Horseherder says it best in her testimony before the House subcommittee on energy, “It’s critically important… …to accept this reality so that they can leverage our vast clean energy resources to level the playing field and get out from under the exploitative control of outside corporations, whose questionable history with tribes leaves little doubt that their true allegiance is to shareholders and not the wellbeing of Navajo communities. Unless we fully seize the opportunity before us, without getting distracted by fairy tales of a long life for NGS, we well be left inadequate plans – or even worse, no plans – for transitioning to a sustainable tribal economy. Allowing ourselves to chase empty promises of a long life for NGS leaves the Navajo Nation at the mercy of the utilities and corporations who will continue to dictate our future.”