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Navajo officials begin the signing ceremony on the historic $554 million settlement with the U.S. Department of the Interior in Window Rock.

Navajo Nation Signs Historic $554 Million Settlement With Interior Over Mismanaged Trust Funds

Alysa Landry
9/26/14

The Navajo Nation on Friday September 26 signed a historic settlement with the U.S. Department of the Interior, resolving a longstanding dispute over alleged mismanagement of trust resources stretching back more than half a century.

The $554 million settlement is the largest ever awarded to an American Indian tribe from the federal government.

Officials from the Interior Department joined tribal leaders in the Window Rock, Arizona, capital of the Navajo Nation for a signing ceremony that brought to an end a legal conflict that has spanned the last eight years and colored the tribe’s relationship with the federal government, Navajo President Ben Shelly said.

“The $554 million represents more than the end of a legal battle,” Shelly said. “This marks a turning point in our relationship with the federal government. We are taking one small forward step toward self-sufficiency, one step away from dependency on the federal government.”

RELATED: Navajo Nation on Receiving End of Historic Settlement

During the ceremony, held under blue skies against a backdrop of the sandstone Window Rock formation, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell called the settlement a landmark agreement that helps address a painful history full of broken promises.

“This is a time for calm winds, a time to look forward and work together,” she said. “We are starting a new chapter in Indian relationships that I am very proud of … because what we really want to do is empower Native communities, empower Navajo communities.”

The suit, filed in 2006, claimed that the government had failed to invest tribal resources in a way that would maximize profits. The federal government oversees 14 million acres of land held by the Navajo Nation and leases out parcels for coal and oil extraction, timber harvesting, farming, housing and other purposes stemming from an agreement forged by treaty in 1868.

The tribe claims that mismanagement dates back to 1946. According to the suit, the tribe originally sought $900 million in damages.

The case was precipitated by the 1823 Supreme Court ruling in Johnson vs. M’Intosh, which defined the Doctrine of Discovery or the loss of tribes’ “absolute title to land,” Navajo Attorney General Harrison Tsosie said.

“Many of us don’t understand that these are the legal principles we live with today,” he said. “This settlement is not an end to a problem. It’s a recognition and a beginning of a dialogue about that problem. This is a beginning, not an end. There are many Indian tribes in the United States that are in the same predicament we were—having to sue the federal government.”

Although the settlement is monetary, it also represents new opportunity, said LoRenzo Bates, speaker pro tem of the Navajo Nation Council and chairman of the council’s Budget and Finance Committee.

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