Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez, left and President Russell Begaye, right, laid two wreaths on the wall of fallen soldiers at Veterans Memorial Park in Window Rock, Arizona, on May 29, 2017, in honor of Memorial Day. Photo: Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President
Law | National

Navajo Nation welcomes victory for 'sovereignty' in land dispute





Leaders of the Navajo Nation are hailing a court ruling that protects the tribe's sovereignty.

A utility company has been trying to condemn lands on the reservation in order to maintain a power line in New Mexico. But the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the effort because the tribe owns interests in the allotments at issue.

“This is an important victory for the sovereignty of the Navajo Nation and we expect those companies seeking an easement over our land to negotiate with us as a sovereign," President Russell Begaye said in a press release on Tuesday.

Navajo leaders noted that the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations and other initiatives promote tribal restoration of their homelands. Through the Buy-Back, the tribe recently reacquired equivalent of about 155,500 acres on the reservation -- those lands are now considered "tribal" under the court's unanimous May 26 decision.

“The opinion is a triumph for the Navajo Nation and for Indian tribes throughout the United States, as the court confirmed that energy and utility companies must seek tribal approval for rights-of-way across tribal lands,” said Attorney General Ethel Branch, the tribe's top legal official.

The allotments at issue have been used for a transmission line since 1960. The rights-of-way expired in 2010 and the Public Service Company of New Mexico started negotiating new agreements with the landowners.

But after some balked at what was being offered, the company turned to the courts and sought to condemn the lands needed for the power line. That's when the Navajo Nation asserted its sovereign rights.

"Absent explicit authorization, tribal sovereignty prevails," Judge Gregory A. Phillips wrote in the 27-page decision issued by the 10th Circuit.

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the case, Public Service Company of NM v. Barboan.

10th Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Public Service Company of NM v. Barboan (May 26, 2017)

Related Stories:
Federal court blocks attempt to condemn lands on Navajo Nation (May 26, 2017)