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US Theft of Navajo Water Rights and the Prosecution of Peter MacDonald

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Peter MacDonald in the 1980s
The Rest of the Story: Water rights and the United States prosecution of former Navajo Chairman Peter MacDonald

By Brenda Norrell
After years of covering the tribal and federal trials of former Navajo Chairman Peter MacDonald as a news reporter for AP and other news organizations, I realized in 1990 that something was very wrong.
It was in Prescott, Arizona, federal court, when a Navajo businessman told me, “It is about the water.”
At that time, few people were talking about Navajo water rights. 
Soon after, during federal court in Phoenix, real estate broker Byron “Bud” Brown admitted that he never gave Peter MacDonald the $4 million for the flip sale of the Big Boquillas Ranch, for which MacDonald was charged. 
A federal prosecutor told me, privately in federal court, that Brown could not be prosecuted for lying under oath, because the federal government had given Brown immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony. Brown received immunity in exchange for sending Peter MacDonald to prison. 
The prosecutor said Brown put those millions in an foreign island account. 
Brown did pause on leaving federal court one day, and said to me, “I want to tell you the truth.” 
However, I never heard from Brown again.
Peter MacDonald spent ten years in jail and prison, shackled during a heart attack. There were very few news organizations that published the rest of the story.
After his release, MacDonald wrote about the Winter’s Doctrine and how it guaranteed the Navajo Nation, and other Indian Nations, the water for their future needs.
Currently, Indian Nations across the west are being pressured to sign the so-called water rights settlements. Those settlements waive Indian water rights under the Winter’s Doctrine. Most often the Indian Nations rely on their hired non-Indian water rights attorneys, who are intent on giving Indian water rights to cities, states and the US government.
The Navajo businessman who tipped me off 25 years ago in Prescott federal court was right.
A pattern emerged. 
The non-Indian attorneys employed by the Navajo Nation in the 1980s, and responsible for removing Peter MacDonald from office, left the Navajo Nation and went to work for other Arizona Indian Nations. There, those attorneys worked on the so-called “water rights settlements.” One of the attorneys who had worked for the Navajo Nation and helped remove MacDonald went to work in Washington DC for the US Interior’s department of water rights. 
As a news reporter, I often crossed their paths.
Through the years, more truth was revealed about the depletion of aquifer water on Black Mesa for use by Peabody Coal, and the coal-fired power plant Navajo Generating Station, one of the dirtiest coal fired power plants in the world.
Peabody Coal’s seizure of Black Mesa for coal was the real reason for the so-called Navajo Hopi land dispute. The media spin and corruption resulted in the relocation of more than 14,000 Navajos. The electricity produced by the twin monsters of Peabody Coal and Navajo Generating Station now lights up Phoenix and Tucson, while many Navajos continue to haul their water and live without electricity.
Navajos resisting relocation at Big Mountain have survived for 40 years.
Today, it is about water rights and the future of the Navajo Nation.
Censored News shares with you today the details of the ongoing attempts to give away, and steal, Navajo water rights, written by Dr. Jack Utter. 
Dr. Utter describes it as the “Road to Termination.”

Brenda Norrell has been a news reporter in Indian country for 29 years, serving as a writer for Navajo Times and a stringer for AP and USA Today during the 18 years she lived on the Navajo Nation. After being a longtime staff reporter for Indian Country Today, she was censored and terminated. She then created Censored News, focused on Indigenous Peoples and human rights, now in its fifth year.


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