A People Betrayed

Recently discovered documents indicate that the lawyer who represented the Hopi Tribe in crucial negotiations with Peabody Western Coal Company was working for the mining company at the same time

Besides the high cost to the Hopi, critics say the proposed settlement was developed by a man with strong ties to the Navajo.

Animosity and suspicion between the Hopi and Navajo run high.
The tribes continue to battle over land rights. Illegal Navajo occupation of some Hopi land has earned the Hopi a judgment against the Navajo worth about $20 million. The Navajo, so far, have refused to pay the judgment.

Under the proposed Little Colorado settlement developed by Apache County Superior Court Judge Michael C. Nelson, the Hopi would forgive that judgment against the Navajo.

The Hopi believe Nelson's role in the case is dubious.
Before he became a judge, Nelson served as legal counsel to former Navajo tribal chairman Peterson Zah between 1982 and 1987. Prior to that, he was litigation attorney for DNA--Peoples Legal Services from 1977 through 1982. He's also written several books about Navajo government and has served on several Navajo committees.

Calls to Nelson seeking comment about his Navajo ties were not returned.
Former Hopi tribal chairman Vernon Masayesva is worried about Nelson's long relationship with the Navajo, and his proposed Little Colorado settlement.

"Why should we support the position where the Navajos would not have to pay a $20 million settlement to the Hopi?" Masayesva asks.

Masayesva says he's sensitive to potential conflicts of interest, "particularly after having seen what John Boyden has done."

The long, sordid history of the exploitation of Black Mesa by Peabody, Boyden, the federal government and utilities has turned Masayesva and other tribal leaders into cynics.

And now, the Hopi Tribe faces another crucial moment in its long history.
"I just can't have trust in anyone, who in my opinion, is not neutral. I don't think Judge Nelson can be, regardless of what he says. In any other situation, it would not be acceptable," Masayesva says.

But this isn't "any other situation"--this is Black Mesa.

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