Something Crude: Navajo Oil and Gas Leadership Rupturing at the Seams

Anne Minard

The Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company has survived months of upheaval in the makeup of its board of directors – and the company isn’t on solid ground quite yet.

The U.S. District Court in Phoenix, Arizona last week declined to hear an appeal of a Navajo Nation Supreme Court decision that denounced a board shakeup of the company by its shareholder representatives, who are also Navajo Nation Council members. Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly issued a statement shortly after the District Court’s decision, blasting the shareholder-Council members for attempting the appeal, and calling it an affront to the Navajo Nation’s sovereignty.

“These delegates acting as shareholders were asking the federal court to overturn our Navajo Supreme Court ruling that was entered against them on June 20,” Shelly said. “This was bad decision making on their part.”

The Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company (NNOGC) was formed as a federally chartered corporation under Section 17 of the Indian Reorganization Act. According to its original charter, which was approved in 1998 by the Navajo Nation Council, all of the company’s profits must go to the Navajo Nation government for essential governmental services.

The Navajo Nation is the sole shareholder, and it’s supposed to be represented by 11 Council delegates taken from standing committees. Instead, the Council has only appointed five representatives: Mel R. Begay, Russell Begaye, Ken Maryboy, Charles Damon and Leonard Tsosie. Of these, Tsosie has evidently stayed out of the wrangling. He does not appear as a party on any of the court filings in the Navajo or federal cases. Two of the five, Maryboy and Begaye, are among 17 candidates running for Navajo Nation President.

The current trouble erupted late last year, Begaye said, as several NNOGC board members’ terms were set to expire. The board had nominated new candidates in line with a goal to assemble a board with more professional experience in the oil and gas industry. But when Shelly, and then the Council, started approving the replacements, the soon-to-be displaced members rebelled and began lobbying members of the Navajo Nation government. Begay, Begaye, Maryboy and Damon ousted two and suspended three of eight sitting board members at a December 21 meeting. Tsosie objected, saying that the procedure was improper.

Court documents filed by the displaced board members tell a different story. They say they were essentially disciplined because they were questioning the qualifications and behavior of the company’s CEO, Robert Joe. The targeted board members include Mae-Gilene Begay, Diandra Benally, Lennard Eltsosie, Jennifer Hatathlie and Nelson Toledo.


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