Navajo Nation on Receiving End of Historic Settlement
The Navajo Nation has settled for $554 million with the federal government in a long-standing lawsuit over mismanaged trust funds dating back as far as 1946. Now, the tribe’s elected leaders have the daunting task of creating a half-billion-dollar spending and investment plan.
According to the BuckleySandler law firm that represented the Navajo Nation, this is the largest settlement obtained in any action by a single tribe against the United States. It also exceeds, by more than $170 million, the money awarded in more than 100 tribal cases involving breaches of trust for natural resource assets.
Rick Abasta, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly’s communications director, said Shelly signed off on the settlement earlier this month, and “that started the clock on a 120-day period during which those funds will come back to the Navajo Nation.”
But tribal members shouldn’t expect to see a rush of new developments or investments, Abasta said. The money likely won’t be used at all until next year, after the Navajo Nation Council and President Shelly can agree on a financial plan.
Abasta described the legislative branch’s approach as an “expenditure plan,” and he said President Shelly preferred to think in terms of an overall investment plan, with more immediate uses potentially for housing, scholarships, infrastructure, the disabled and the elderly.
But Jared Touchin, spokesman for the Navajo Nation’s legislative branch, said it’s premature to characterize the Council’s approach.
“I think it’s too early to say. There have been a few ideas,” he said. “Some delegates have even said the money should be used toward some investment; they’re open to investing. I know some of them want to use the money for housing and infrastructure projects. Nothing has been put on paper or out there for the public yet.”
Touchin said details are still coming together for a series of at least five public meetings in July, one in each of the Navajo Nation’s agencies, to collect ideas from tribal members. Abasta said President Shelly is also asking for public input, especially through the Navajo Nation’s 110 chapters. The legislative and executive branches will come together for additional meetings as they sort out a path forward.
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