MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations

Harris Arthur is SRIC's New Navajo Community Liaison

Southwest Research and Information Center introduces our new staff person, Harris Arthur. Harris was hired in July as SRIC's Navajo Community Liaison. He comes to us with life experiences that are both unique, and all too typical, to his community.

Harris was born into a traditional Navajo family as the first of nine children. He was raised in the Burnham, N.M., area and on a small farm in Lower Fruitland, along the San Juan River in northwestern New Mexico. As a child and youth, Harris tended the family herd of sheep and worked on the farm along side his father and younger brothers. His traditional upbringing was largely influenced by his grandfather, a well respected medicine man in the area.

At the early age of 6, Harris was enrolled in a boarding school administered by the Methodist Church. Speaking no English at this early age, Harris often longed for the free life in Burnham and tried to "escape" from the boarding school on many occasions, only to be captured and returned to endure indoctrination into the dominant society. In the end Harris finished high school at the boarding school and went on to earn his B.S. degree in Agricultural Engineering from New Mexico State University. He later did graduate work in Agricultural Economics at Arizona State University.

Despite his Western education, Harris maintained his connection to traditional Diné cultural and religious practices. He is a fluent Navajo speaker who also writes the Navajo language. He and his partner, Alta McCabe, live in a hogan in Upper Fruitland Chapter between Shiprock and Farmington, N.M.

Throughout his professional career, Harris has been involved in various disciplines in the natural resources field. His passion for renewable energy has been the underpinning for his desire to protect and conserve the Navajo Nation's precious water, land, mineral, and environmental resources for future generations of his Navajo people. In the mid-1970s, Harris worked with Burnham community members and non-Indian technical people, including SRIC's co-founder, Peter Montague, to stop construction of two proposed coal gasification plants and an attendant surface mine.

He has held a variety of government positions in his career. He served as a Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Land and Water Resources, and later as Navajo Area Natural Resource Manager in the U.S. Department of Interior. Later, he was the Chief Civil Engineer for the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Branch of Natural Resources Irrigation Operations and Maintenance Section. Harris also held positions within the Navajo Nation, starting in the Division of Community Development and the Housing Services Departments, and later as Senior Deputy Chief of Staff to the President of the Navajo Nation. In these positions he has worked on issues dealing with environmental impacts of energy development projects, Indian water rights, mining on Indian lands, water resources and development, and alternative energy applications.

Harris has also worked as a consultant on oil and gas leasing on Indian lands, impacts of coal development, water management for local irrigation districts, and water delivery systems for remote homes. He has also worked extensively with communities on the Navajo Nation to promote, design, and implement photovoltaic systems on remote homes.

Harris will be working on uranium and health issues with Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining (ENDAUM), the Church Rock Uranium Monitoring Project (CRUMP), and the Eastern Navajo Health Board through the Diné Network for Environmental Health (DiNEH) Project.

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"Some people in the community were behind mining, [they] thought, mining is good for money. Some Navajo families were compensated for [past] mining on their lands. They were rich for a while. But it seems like to Navajos or native people, it's not good for us. As of today, I've seen these families suffer; many are gone from alcoholism, and [many] didn't spend the money in the right way. There's nothing there, now they're suffering again. This is almost where we're headed again. In the long run, I think it's not made for the native people to be so rich off the Earth. Uranium mining, it's like it's an omen."

--Mitchell Capitan,
Eastern Navajo Din Against Uranium Mining

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