Traditional Indian societies in southern Utah will succumb to cultural bias within two generations if they don't claim political control of their lands, Mark Maryboy told environmentalists at a conference.
The Navajo county commissioner addressed conflicts in land-use values between the Navajos and Utah's dominant Mormon religious group during his keynote speech at a fall roundup of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.An estimated 80 members gathered for the two-day rally on the topic "Wilderness - The Mormon and Navajo Perspective." Maryboy, an incumbent candidate for the San Juan County Commission, closed the program Saturday asking for more support from environmentalists for a voter-registration drive on the Utah Navajo Reservation. The Wilderness Alliance donated $200 at the beginning of the drive last spring, said Navajo activist Chester Johnson of Montezuma Creek.
Maryboy said funds are needed to help register 1,000 more Navajos before the cutoff date. Poll watchers are also needed to see that registered Navajos cast ballots without problems during the election, he said.
Maryboy was accompanied by five members of the Johnson family, which has been actively involved in political and legal efforts to reclaim homelands from oil and natural gas drilling companies.
"We hope by sharing some of these things we might come to a working relationship with each other," Johnson told the group in a translation of remarks by his father, Fred Johnson. The Johnsons are members of the Kaiyella tribe, which claims independence from both the United States and the Navajo Nation.
They said the tribal government has allowed oil and energy companies to contaminate the water and air and ruin farming and grazing lands during mineral and oil exploration and development in the Aneth area the past 34 years.
Chester Johnson said approximately 350 wells a quarter-mile apart have been drilled within a three- to four-mile radius of Aneth, forcing his family to evacuate.
The Johnsons said very little from oil royalties and severance taxes trickles down to the Utah section of the reservation - a political no-man's land where most people are forced to live on welfare in inadequate housing without electricity or running water.
The Kaiyellas hope to develop support among environmentalists in the fight against pollution and exploitation of the southeast corner of Utah, Johnson said.
Maryboy said the Navajos have lived under a reign of terror by the oil companies. The companies have polluted artesian wells, scarred the land with oil, acid and salt water spills, and filled the air with deadly hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide and odors of burning gas, he said.
The Navajos envision an economy based on art, and development compatible with nature and the philosophy of the circle of life.
"Yet while we are trying to make our vision a reality through the political process, oil companies are drilling on the last untouched mesas in the Kaiyella domain, and there are wells planned to mar the beauty of Monument Valley," Maryboy said.
"What we need is something that will be with us forever - to feed the mind, to be self-sufficient. We don't want to be a drain on society," he said.