Warning: video contains foul language.
by Randy DeSoto
Sen. John McCain received a less than cordial welcome on Friday during a visit to the Navajo Nation in northern Arizona, which ended with protesters appearing to literally chase him off the reservation.
The senator, along with Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, went to the tribal land to participate in a celebration honoring WWII’s Navajo Code Talkers and speak with other tribal and community leaders. However, protesters at both locations the senator and governor went sought to disrupt the visit.
“The primary reason why there was such a strong resistance to McCain’s presence was because of the issues we’re facing around water rights,” Kim Smith, one of the protesters, told the Phoenix New Times. “As young people, we’re realizing that if we do not stand up for our water, we will be left with none.”
Protesters chanted “Water is life” in their native language and waved signs reading “McCain = Indian Killer” and “McCain’s not welcome here.”
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye raised the issue of the EPA-triggered mine spill in neighboring Colorado, which sent 3 million gallons of toxic sludge into the Animas and San Juan Rivers. The EPA temporarily banned the water’s use downstream, which included the Navajo Nation.
Water from the San Juan river is a lifeline to the reservation, where it is used for farming and ranching.
“I keep saying when are we going to hear from the White House? Not a word. When somebody wins the Super Bowl or an NBA Championship, they get a call, right? And when something like this happens and people are suffering, nothing,” President Begaye said according to Native News.
The president told McCain that the federal government should create a 90 day supply of potable water for residents to have and assistance in drilling more wells or potentially piping “healthy water” in from the Colorado River.
“Grabbing a plastic bottle of water, President Begaye said Navajo EPA collected water from the river and that after an hour of no movement, the water cleared. He then shook the bottle and said the yellow color returned when they shook the water sample,” Native News reports.
Navajo Vice President Jonathan Nez said that his people have a natural distrust of the federal government and stated that the EPA never apologized to them for contaminating their water.
Beyond the contamination of the Animas and San Juan Rivers, the protesters are upset with McCain regarding “Water Rights Settlement” legislation, which McCain and former Senator Jon Kyl introduced in 2012. It would “have required the Navajo and Hopi tribes to waive their water rights to the Navajo aquifer for ‘time immemorial’ in exchange for infrastructure that would pipe clean water into three remote areas of the reservation. Many in the Navajo and Hopi communities disapproved of the proposal,” according to the Phoenix New Times.
During McCain’s second stop on the reservation Friday at Navajo Nation Museum at Window Rock, more than a dozen protesters positioned themselves outside the room in which he was meeting with Navajo leaders. Some sat in a circle singing a native songs, as police stood guard barring them from entering the room. When the protesters discovered the senator just left through a rear entrance, they raced to the front entrance, but were temporarily barred from exiting by police. After they broke through, more officers met them outside, blocking their advance long enough for the senator and governor to leave.
In the video, one protester can be heard calling out: “Who do you protect? Who do you serve?”
A group of them took off after the senator’s motorcade, screaming things like: “Get out of here!…Get the hell off our land!”
McCain’s office issued a statement countering the notion that he had been chased off of the Navajo reservation.
Senator McCain was honored to be invited by the Navajo Nation to meet with tribal and community leaders and to speak at the celebration of the Navajo Code Talkers on Friday. It was a great visit and he received a very warm reception from the Navajo community in Window Rock.
He certainly wasn’t “chased off” the reservation – this small group of young protesters had no practical impact on his productive meetings with top tribal leaders on a range of key issues, including the EPA’s recent Gold King Mine spill which threatens to contaminate the Navajo Nation’s water supply.