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Navajo President Begaye Blasts Federal Agencies for Gold King Spill Response

Arren Kimbel-Sannit/Cronkite News

The president of the Navajo Nation testified this week before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee about the Gold King Mine spill. Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports, President Russell Begaye told lawmakers federal agencies failed to help the tribe after the 2015 disaster. 

President Begaye said the tribe requested aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other departments. But it was referred repeatedly to the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA determined it wasn’t responsible for compensation because of the sovereign immunity doctrine.

Begaye said the federal government’s lack of help to the tribe and its farmers was unacceptable. He also said Native American nations often face difficulties when applying for federal disaster assistance.

Contractors with the EPA triggered the 3-million gallon spill. The tribe blames losses by Navajo farmers and ranchers on the mine waste that flowed through tribal lands on the San Juan River.

The EPA has agreed to conduct long-term water monitoring on the affected waterways. 

Ryan Heinsius joined the KNAU newsroom as executive producer in 2013 and was named news director and managing editor in 2024. As a reporter, he has covered a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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