Tepee blockade spurs talks

  In early January, a small group of Navajos blocked Mobil Oil Corp. offices near Aneth, Utah, with a 20-foot tepee, demanding a halt to oil and gas drilling on their desolate corner of the reservation. The tribe's Aneth Chapter accused Mobil of contaminating local springs, ruining prime grazing lands and not hiring enough Native Americans.

The protesters said they were also fed up with tribal headquarters in Window Rock, Ariz. Mark Maryboy, a Navajo Nation council delegate, said the tribal bureaucracy takes millions in royalties from Mobil's 300 wells, but leaves locals without running water or electricity.

After three days of talks held in the tepee, the tribe and the oil company signed a new 32-point agreement, said Beth Ann Rust, a Mobil negotiator. The agreement, which replaces one from 1978, will allow power and other utility companies to reach remote sections of the reservation by using existing Mobil facilities, Rust said. Maryboy said the agreement also directs the Navajo Nation to funnel more money back into the Aneth community, a move which depends on the tribal leaders' cooperation.

"It's up to me and the other chapter officials to make it become a reality," he said. "Otherwise, we're back to square one 10 years from now."

* Danielle Desruisseaux

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