June 23, 2023
NBC News interviewed Andrew Curley, author of Carbon Sovereignty, about the Supreme Court decision regarding water rights on the Navajo Nation. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against the Navajo Nation in a dispute involving water rights in the lower Colorado River Basin. Curley said, “It’s not surprising that the Supreme Court, a colonial court, would side with a colonial government. The power is stacked against tribes in this scenario.”
In the minority opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote that he would have allowed the case to go forward and he characterized the Navajo’s position as a “simple ask.” Lawyers for the Navajo Nation stated that they were seeking only an assessment of the tribe’s water needs and a plan to meet them. Gorsuch also offered hope for the Navajo Nation indicating that his colleagues in the majority recognized that the tribe may still be able to “assert the interests they claim in water rights litigation, including by seeking to intervene in cases that affect their claimed interests.”
About Carbon Sovereignty:
For almost fifty years, coal dominated the Navajo economy. But in 2019 one of the Navajo Nation’s largest coal plants closed. This comprehensive new work offers a deep dive into the complex inner workings of energy shift in the Navajo Nation. Geographer Andrew Curley, a member of the Navajo Nation, examines the history of coal development within the Navajo Nation, including why some Diné supported coal and the consequences of doing so. He explains the Navajo Nation’s strategic choices to use the coal industry to support its sovereignty as a path forward in the face of ongoing colonialism. Carbon Sovereignty demonstrates the mechanism of capitalism through colonialism and the construction of resource sovereignty, in both the Navajo Nation’s embrace and its rejection of a coal economy.
Andrew Curley is a member of the Navajo Nation and an assistant professor in the School of Geography, Development & Environment at the University of Arizona. He has studied the social, cultural, and political implications of coal mining in the Navajo Nation, and his latest research is on the environmental history of water diversions on the Colorado River and the impact of colonial infrastructures on tribal nations.