Under the tribal government system imposed on indigenous nations by the U.S. Government, governance of the Navajo Nation has long been corrupted by the corrosive influence of the coal industry. Now that tribal members are challenging their corrupted government, the U.S. Government and the coal companies in court as well as on the ground, Navajo Nation officials are attempting to silence their own people and limit the jurisdiction of federal courts over the application of environmental protection laws on Indian reservations.
By asserting sovereign immunity over its territory in order to accommodate expanded coal mining — and thereby the depletion of Navajo aquifers and degradation of air quality — the Navajo government is playing a dangerous game. While sovereignty carried to its logical end means the Navajo could set its own environmental policy at lower standards than those of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the message that would send to Wall Street and Main Street could set off a firestorm in the midst of a coalescing indigenous environmental alliance centered around new instruments of the international human rights regime.
Given Wall Street’s inordinate influence on national and international institutions, the global indigenous liberation movement is understandably fragile and chaotic; sowing the seeds of indigenous disintegration within America’s most populous tribal nation is an act the Navajo government will someday have to answer for.