Navajo Nation land acquisition work session, July 12

The Navajo Nation Council Naabik’iyati Committee has scheduled a work session on two separate bills that propose amendments to the Nation’s land acquisition laws.

The work session is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, July 12, in the Council chambers in Window Rock, Ariz.

On Wednesday, July 7, the Naabik’iyati’ Committee directed the Office of the Speaker to schedule a work session to further discuss Legislation 0101-16 and Legislation 0190-16.

Legislation 0101-16 amends the Navajo Land Policy on the Acquisition of Land, Title 16 Navajo Nation Code sections 1-10, and the Land Acquisition Trust Fund, Title 16 N.N.C. § 202; and Enacting the Navajo Nation Land Acquisition Act.

The sponsor of 0101-16 is Navajo Nation Council Resources and Development Committee Chairperson and Council Delegate Alton Joe Shepherd. On July 6, when it went before the Naabik’iyati Committee, Council Delegates Otto Tso and Leonard Pete made a motion to Table 0101-16 for a Work Session before the Navajo Naton Council Summer Session, which is July 18 to 22. The Naabik’iyati Committee voted 7-6  to Table.

Even though the Naabik’iyati Committee Tabled 0101-16, it still moves on to the Coucill

During the debate over 0101-16, Council Delegate Leonard Tsosie, who is also sponsoring legislation to amend the Land Acquisition law, urged the Naabik’iyati Committee to oppose 0101-16 because it would create another Big Boquillas  by giving all the power to purchase land to the Navajo Nation president, who is currently Russell Begaye.

The Big Boquillas or Bo-gate was a land flip involving then Chairman Peter MacDonald Sr. in 1987, in which the 491,000 acre ranch near Seligman, Ariz., was bought for $26.2 million and within minutes was sold to the Navajo Nation for $33.4 million. The ranch scheme resulted in MacDonald’s conviction in tribal court of 41 counts of bribery, conspiracy and ethics violations and a sentence of about six years in a tribal jail and a $11,000 fine.

A federal court then convicted MacDonald of 16 fraud, extortion, bribery and racketeering charges and sentenced him to serve multiple five-year terms, which would run concurrently and to the seven-year term he was already serving in tribal jail. And so MacDonald’s federal sentence didn’t add more jail time.

And what Tsosie failed to fully explain was the total difference between the chairmanship and the presidency.

As chairman, MacDonald presided over the Navajo Nation Council, he handpicked the members of the standing committees and the committee chairpersons and vice chairpersons, he was the only elected official that could sponsor legislation, and his political appointments went beyond division directors and reached out to program directors. He even had the power to politically appoint the chief of police.

And it wasn’t until the Council tried to remove MacDonald for the illegal land flip and federal investigation that they learned how much power MacDonald had amassed as chairman. It was that rude awakening that propelled the Council to amend Navajo law and clearly separate the Executive, Legislative and Judicial Branches.

The president retained some political appointments but not as far reaching as the chairmanship.

And when Shepherd explained that his proposed amendments to the land acquisition law, he said the authority to purchase land would be with the executive director of the Division of the Natural Resources. The proposed amendments would also provide for the selling and disposal of tribal government land.

The Nation’s division directors are all political appointees of the president.

Shepherd also said that Tsosie’s proposed amendments to the land acquisition laws would remove the transparency of land purchases, land sales and the disposal of land because a Commission of members from the Council and political appointees by the president would have the power to buy, sell and dispose of land.

Both Shepherd and Tsosie said their proposed amendments streamline the Nation’s laws regarding land purchases, sales and disposals by allowing the Nation to buy and sell land in a few weeks or days instead of three months or longer.

The Nation’s current land laws don’t allow for the Nation to make an offer to buy land, sell land and dispose of land.

When Tsosie’s proposed amendments to the land acquisition laws, which are in Legislation 0190-16, went before the Naabik’iyati Committee, the committee recommended it for approval by the Council with a 14-1 vote even though several questions were raised by the Navajo Nation Department of Justice and President Russell Begaye sent a veto alert of 0190-16 to the Council.

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