By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch Managing Editor

WINDOW ROCK, Navajo Nation – On Thursday the Navajo nation reached a 554 million settlement with the United States government, ending years of litigation. The landmark settlement stems from a 2006 lawsuit in which the Navajo nations claims the United States Government mismanaged natural resources and trust fund assets dating back to 1946. The Navajo nation charged the federal government with failing to properly managed, invest and account for tribal funds and resources derived from the tribe’s 14million acres of trust lands, which are leased for various purposes, including farming, grazing, mining and timber harvesting. The Navajo Nation semi-autonomous reservation is the largest Native American reservation in the United States with 300,000 members and 27,000 square miles of territory in three states, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. Despite the nation’s vast resources wealth many of the tribal members who live in remote areas of the reservation live without basic modern amenities, including electricity and running water. The Navajo lawsuit alleges that the Bureau of Indian affairs miss-management of Navajo assets contributed to extreme poverty on the reservation and prevented the nation from taking actions of its own.

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly presents Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell with a blanket after signing the $554 million settlement reached between the Navajo Nation and the Untied States government on Sept. 26, 2014, at Window Rock Veterans Memorial Park in Window Rock. (Photo courtesy of The Arizona Republic)

On Friday the United States Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, under whom the Bureau of Indian Affairs is managed, led a delegation of federal officials at a signing ceremony at tribal headquarters in Window Rock. After the ceremony she said that the funds will be transferred to the Navajo Nation within weeks. “By the end of the year, we believe the check will actually be here and in the bank and earning interest,” Jewell said.

United States President Barack Obama has directed that future interactions with Native American tribes should be based on a government-to-government status, recognizing that tribes should exercise self-governance and self-determination, Secretary Jewell. “Our job with 21/2 years remaining is to make sure that we deepen the relationship with Indian country, so no president coming after President Obama — Republican, Democrat or independent — can undo the good work that we’ve started, because we need to move forward in this next generation,” Jewell said.

Acting U.S. Assistant Attorney General Sam Hirsch, who attended Friday’s ceremony, said President Obama has long worked to strengthen ties between the United States and the Navajo Nation, adding that “it reflects my personal commitment to resolving long-standing lawsuits rather than wasting the time and resources of both the United States and Indian tribes in contentious litigation.”

The landmark legal settlement, which concluded eight years of litigation, is the most paid by the federal government to a single Native American tribe. Ben Shelley, President of the Navajo Nation, said the agreement does not fully compensate the nation for the loss of revenue suffered and harm caused by the federal governments action’s over the past several decades. However, he believes the settlement marks a turning point in the relationship between the federal government of the United States and the Navajo Nation. “The trust litigation has been a protracted battle and, in the end, it was a victory for tribal sovereignty,” Shelly said in a statement. “After a long, hard-won process, I am pleased that we have finally come to a resolution on this matter to receive fair and just compensation for Navajo Nation.”

For more information please see:

The Arizona Republic – U.S. Government Formally Agrees to Pay Navajos $554 Million – 26 September 2014

CNN International – Navajo Nation to Sign $554 Million Settlement from U.S. Government – 25 September 2014

The Los Angeles Times – U.S. Settlement with Navajo Nation is Largest Ever for a Tribe – 25 September 2014

The Washington Post – U.S. to Pay Navajo Nation $554 Million in Largest Settlement with Single Indian Tribe – 25 September 2014

Author: Kathryn Maureen Ryan