Courtesy BuckleySandler Law Firm
From left, Council Delegate Walter Phelps, Council Delegate Lorenzo Curley, Deputy Attorney General Dana Bobroff, President Ben Shelly (sitting), Council Delegate Roscoe Smith, Speaker Pro Tem LoRenzo Bates (sitting), Council Delegate Jonathan Nez, Attorney General Harrison Tsosie, Navajo Tax Commission director Martin Ashley, and OPVP Chief of Staff Arbin Mitchell.

Navajo Nation on Receiving End of Historic Settlement

Anne Minard
6/17/14

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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bullbear's picture
bullbear
Submitted by bullbear on
$554M will not go very far in turning back the greatest needs on any reservation as there are far too many. Some of those unmet needs are unemployment, healthcare, roads, diabetes, alcoholism, drugs, dropout rate, veteran services, and police services that stares every tribal community in the face and to be asked to prioritize them is like trying to gather stray cats. This is when I do not envy those who serve in tribal leadership positions. The fact is that these proceeds are not a windfall. A tremendous amount of natural resources were given up which no one will ever accurately account for and in the back of ones mind, we can never be fully satisfied as so many lives have passed on that never reaped from what was given up many decades ago. I think the best a tribe can do is put some in a secure savings option, invest in capital ventures, and use some to build a stronger workforce. A stronger work force will provide a means to take better care of health and medical needs of families. More people working means less social ills such as alcoholism, drugs, gangs and dropouts. If the youth are our future, should we not be investing in them?

100IndigenousAmerican's picture
100IndigenousAm...
Submitted by 100IndigenousAm... on
"They" decide to settle right before the elections? The Lawyers are laughing all the way to the bank thanking their gods for elections. 1 billion dollars was much more in line with what is moral and just. 550 million is a drop in the bucket. Shelly asking for public input is laughable, "Hey I got money for you from Washindon so you better vote for me , if you wanna mor..." - is more the accurate story.

CJKlepper's picture
CJKlepper
Submitted by CJKlepper on
...."President Ben Shelly to sign off on the finality of the windfall?" Not. It should be the responsibility of the new administration who should be tasked with coming up with the use, immediate and long-term, of investments for the Dine' people. The current administration still have many past members who were involved in the mismanagement and funds and nothing has been done about it by the past and current administration's Presidents but a slap on the wrists of those offenders. Both past and current administration's Presidents are running again for the position, as well as council members who were accused in the mismanagement of discretionary funds. The immediate need should be education, especially the hiring of qualified teachers for reservation schools. The reservation schools, especially in the State of Arizona where education funding is at its lowest, should be given priority. Too many schools on the reservation have been passing students who did not meet the core subject standards. These barely-passed high school graduates can not even meet workforce standards of reading and writing skills. Lastly, there should always be an emergency funds mandated for Nation and and not depend on the Federal government for our existence. We, as a sovereign Nation, can do it with fresh young minds to lead us forward and not just be a status quo in the running of our government.

Marie Cereceres
Marie Cereceres
Submitted by Marie Cereceres on
This is another sad day for us as we must hang our head low and what our leaders have accepted as a settlement for what was withheld. They make this sound monumental but, in reality this is peanuts in comparison to what we should have received and we still give away our resources such as our water to Phoenix to name a simple one. Shelly asking for input is sadly entertaining on so many levels considering his lack of concern for his people in the first place. Take the Asaayi Lake Fire which is the largest fire ever on the Navajo Nation and how he down played it. Albeit, due to the life they are forcing us into, many of our people live at the bottom of the mountain with less than the allowed 1 acre of land in poorly built and managed homes. This is a travesty and needs to be written that way.
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