Navajo Nation opposes bill that reduces share of trust revenues

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Davis Filfred, third from left, met with students from Colorado Mesa University who support of a proposed Bears Ears National Monument in Utah on October 15, 2016. Photo from Navajo Nation Council

The Navajo Nation is taking a stand against a controversial bill that a fellow tribe has slammed as a "modern day Indian land grab."

The Navajo Nation Council last week approved Legislation No. 0364-16. The measure affirms the tribe's opposition to H.R.5780, the Utah Public Lands Initiative Act.

Buried within the 215-page package is a provision that affects the Utah Navajo Trust Fund. In a mere three lines, H.R.5780 doubles the percentage of royalties that flow to Utah even though the federal courts have repeatedly chastised the state for failing to properly manage the trust fund.

“It is important that the Navajo Nation oppose this bill because the state of Utah and the federal government failed to consult with our Nation in regards to changes to our UNTF and mineral royalties,” Council Delegate Davis Filfred, who represents Navajo communities in Utah, said in a press release on Wednesday. “The change to the UNTF should have been a stand-alone bill and not hidden within H.R. 5780.”

But Filfred said the tribe has another reason to oppose the Utah Public Lands Initiative Act, which is sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah). He said the measure fails to provide adequate protections for Bears Ears, a historic and sacred area in Utah where revered Chief Manuelito who led his people through a forced march and later signed a treaty with the United States, and his brother were born.

Filfred said "Bishop does not understand the Navajo Nation’s ties to the Bears Ears area or our need to protect the landscape. His proposed legislation seeks to impede on our inherent rights to our ancestral land areas, and we will continue to fight this bill for the Diné."

The Navajo Nation joins the Ute Tribe in opposing Bishop's bill. Another provision takes 100,000 acres from the Ute Tribe's reservation and transfers it to the state of Utah.

Neither tribe was consulted about the provisions affecting their rights and neither tribe was allowed to testify when the bill came up for its first hearing last month.

Ute Chairman Shaun Chapoose asked if he could testify but "I was told, outright, 'No,'" he said in an interview with Indianz.Com last month.

The Navajo Nation and the Ute Tribe are founding members of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition are they are calling on President Barack Obama to protect the area as a national monument.

Legislation No. 0364-16 was approved by the Navajo Nation Council’s Naabik’íyáti’ Committee, which serves as the final word on the bill.

House Committee on Natural Resources Notices:
Markup on 5 Bills (September 22, 2016)
Markup on 5 Bills (September 21, 2016)
Legislative Hearing on H.R. 5780 “Utah Public Lands Initiative Act” (September 14, 2016)

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