I’ve been hearing serious concerns about U.S. Congressional legislation, House Bill 5039. The title of HB 5039 is “To Make Technical Amendments to Public Law 93-531, and for Other Purposes.”
P.L. 93-531 is the federal settlement of the so-called Navajo-Hopi-US Land Dispute. I say so-called because the history of the Navajo-Hopi-US Land Dispute has shown that it was initiated on behalf of Peabody Coal Company to obtain legal contracts from the Navajo and Hopi government to conduct coal strip mining of lands that were jointly used by the Navajo and Hopi people. And since the lands were legally jointly used, there was no way that Peabody could could legally get at the land, where the riches coal deposits and lease expensive method of coal mining existed in the US.
And the impact of Public Law 93-531, the federal settlement of the so-called Navajo-Hopi-US Land Dispute, resulted in the federally funded forced uprooting of thousands of Navajo families and hundreds of Hopi families from their ancestral homelands.
I still remember the planned removal of the Friday family from their ancestral home, high among the lush green mountains of Black Mesa. As I looked at the panoramic view from their humble homestead, I thought of the rich and famous, who paid millions of dollars for homes with such a view. And then I looked at their homestead, which consisted of a small but cozy house, a hogan where grandma lived, corrals for their sheep and horses, and storage sheds. I immediately noticed that there was not one bit of trash lying around. It was beautiful and so was the family.
And like most, if not all of the families federally stamped for relocation, the Fridays didn’t know why they had to move to a place called the New Lands.
The aftermath of PL 93-531 was devastating because it involved the breakup of families and the eviction of families from their relocation homes in metropolitan areas because property taxes were foreign to them. And then there was the deaths of so many elders, who are our people’s living libraries, museums, spiritual guides and leaders. The elders died from broken hearts. And then there are the ones that went missing. They remain uncounted. This small list of consequences of an inhuman federal action in this modern age of enlightment is just a tiny bit of the cruelty inflicted on a people for simply living in peace with Mother Earth.
The official title of PL 93-531 is “An Act to provide for the Final Settlement of the Conflicting Rights and Interests of the Hopi and Navajo Tribes to and in lands lying within the Joint Use Area of the Reservation established by the Executive Order of December 16, 1882, and Lands lying within the Reservation created by the Act of June 14, 1934, and for Other Purposes.”
US Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick introduced HB 5039 in the House on July 7, 2014. On July 14, HB 5039 was referred to the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulations.
And so it appears that Congress’ “final settlement” of the Navajo-Hopi-US land dispute is not so final.
According to two recent press releases from the Navajo Nation government, Kirkpatrick worked with the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission, which consists of Chairperson Walter Phelps, Vice Chairperson Elmer Begay, and members Jonathan Nez, Duance Tsinigine, Lorenzo Curley, Dwight Witherspoon, Joshua Butler, and Alton Shepherd, to produce HB 5039 “to address the unique needs of the Former Bennett Freeze Area and other critical issues directly relating to the families impacted by the Navajo Hopi Land Settlement Act.”
The tribal legislative public information office stated in a JULY 30 press release that HB 5039 or “Navajo Technical Amendments Act of 2014 amends the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act to make changes that would foster development and efficiency on the part of the relocation program, and expedite rehabilitation of the Former Bennett Freeze Lands.”
NHLC Chairperson Walter Phelps is quoted as saying, “I am very proud of the work of the commission and the work of Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick in putting forth this legislation that will help the complicated issue which the commission has been addressing over the years. This will start an important dialogue and bring a focus back to these Navajo communities who suffer from the harsh consequences of relocation and construction freezes.”
Phelps represents the Navajo Reservation communities of Cameron, Coalmine Canyon, Leupp, Tolani Lake, and Tsidi To ii.
Tribal Legislative Office Communications Director Jared Touchin said on Wednesday afternoon, July 30, that he would contact Phelps about whether the Navajo Hopi Land Committee held public meetings and, or public hearings with communities, families and individuals impacted by HB 5039.
According to a JULY 24, press release from the Navajo Nation Washington, D.C., Office, HR 5039 makes the following six technical changes to PL 93-531:
1. “Clarifies the boundary of the Navajo Nation for land selection purposes. The Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act authorizes the secretary to transfer up to 250,000 acres of lands under Bureau of Land Management jurisdiction to the Navajo Nation so long as these lands are within 18 miles of the Nation’s present reservation. The bill clarifies that the Navajo Nation’s trust lands are included within the definition of the reservation for this purpose.”
2. “Allows for the deselection and reselection of lands to correct a BBM surveying error. The BLM committed a surveying error, resulting in the Navajo Nation selecting 757 more acres of land than it believed it had selected under the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act. This bill corrects this error, allowing the Nation to deselect and reselect 757 acres subject to the restrictions in the Act.”
3. “Provides for a study to ensure the fair and timely determination of fair rental value payments. The Navajo Nation pays rental income for Navajo families living on certain lands. Due to lengthy delays in receiving rental determinations much of these payments are the interest costs. This bill requires the secretary to evaluate this process and create a plan for bringing rental determinations current.”
4. “Create a Navajo Tribal Sovereignty Empowerment Demonstration Project. The Navajo Nation seeks to exercise more sovereignty over its lands and spur economic development in the areas impacted by the Act and by a 40-year development freeze in what is known as the Former Bennett Freeze Area. This bill encourages development and streamlines the regulatory process by waiving certain federal laws, while keeping in place their Navajo equivalents, for the limited purposes of renewable energy, housing, public and community facilities, and infrastructure development (limited to 150,000 acres in identified zones).”
5. “Allow for Navajo families living on Hopi partitioned land to relinquish their accommodation agreements and restore their eligibility for relocation benefits. A small number of Navajo families who signed agreements allowing them to remain on Hopi-partitioned land now wish to relinquish those agreements and relocate pursuant to the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act. This bill would allow such relinquishment.”
6. “Forgives existing loan payments to the Navajo Nation in the Navajo Rehabilitation Trust Fund. The Act established the Navajo Rehabilitation Trust Fund to provide monies to the Navajo Nation to address the adverse impacts of Federal relocation of Navajo families. Approximately $16 million was appropriated to this fund, to be paid back out of revenues from certain lands the Nation acquired pursuant to the Act. However, those lands have never been developed. This bill releases the Navajo Nation from the obligation to repay these monies and reauthorizes the Trust Fund, allowing Congress to appropriate development dollars in future years should it so choose. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources.”
The tribal legislative office and the tribal Washington, DC, office, both reported that federal hearings on HB 5039 have not been “announced.”
But according to Indiana Nez, a Navajo Reservation resident, HB 5039 only opens up the reservation for the Escalade Development and the development of uranium and coal.
Nez said that the “pushers” of HB 5039 know that the Navajo Nation Departments that are charged with resource protection, such as the Navajo Environmental Protection Agency, Navajo Nation Historic Preservation Department, Navajo Nation Game & Fish are weak, not weak in character, but chronically underfunded and understaffed.
And so she said those tribal departments are often unable to enforce basic protection and punishment of offenders of tribal law regarding natural resources and now with HB 5039 taking away federal protections, which is all the Navajo people have these days, the Navajo Nation could allow widespread environmental, ecological, and cultural destruction by inappropriate developments like the proposed Grand Canyon Escalade Project, uranium fracking, more Coal mining, more power plants, more haphazard housing developments, etc.
“We have everything to lose, the ground under our feet, the air we breath, the water we drink, the past we rely on to show us the way to the future,” Nez said.
She emphasized, “Within HB 5039″s proposed Navajo Sovereignty Empowerment Zones, the following laws are waived with regard to renewable energy development, housing development, public and community facilities, and infrastructure development, such as water and waste water development, roads, transmission lines, gas lines, and rights-of-way:
(1) The Wilderness Act ( 16 U.S.C. 1131 et seq. ).
(2) The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 ( 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq. ).
(3) The Endangered Species Act of 1973 ( 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq. ).
(4) The National Historic Preservation Act ( 16 U.S.C. 470 et seq. ).
(5) Public Law 86–523 ( 16 U.S.C. 469 et seq. ).
(6) The Act of June 8, 1906 (commonly known as the Antiquities Act of 1906 ( 16 U.S.C. 431 et seq. )).
(7) The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 ( 43 U.S.C. 1701 et seq. ).
(8) The National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966 ( 16 U.S.C. 668dd et seq. ).
(9) The Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956 ( 16 U.S.C. 742a et seq. ).
(10) The Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act ( 16 U.S.C. 661 et seq. ).
(11) Subchapter II of chapter 5, and chapter 7, of title 5, United States Code (commonly known as the Administrative Procedure Act ).
(12) The National Park Service Organic Act ( 16 U.S.C. 1 et seq. ).
(13) The General Authorities Act of 1970 ( Public Law 91–383 ) ( 16 U.S.C. 1a–1 et seq. ).
(14) Sections 401(7), 403, and 404 of the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978 ( Public Law 95–625 , 92 Stat. 3467).
(15) The Arizona Desert Wilderness Act of 1990 ( 16 U.S.C. 1132 note; Public Law 101–628 ).”