Resources and Development Committee: Range Land Management Act

Here at Navajo Council Resources and Development Committee meeting where I video taped report from Auditor General and Ethics Director on cases involving alleged misuse of tribal money appropriated to chapters by Navajo Council or tribal money generated from local businesses that certified chapters collect. Several written reports were handed out to RDC and I’ll try to obtain those public documents and the documents are public because they were discussed in a public meeting of public officials.

The RDC heard from Navajo Nation Department of Agriculture Director Leo Watchman on draft Navajo Range Land Management Act.


RDC CHAIRPERSON KATHERINE BENALLY:  EXPLAIN to media that RDC chair asked for time with Naabik’iyati to share uninterrupted from Council on draft, afford time to explain Range land Management. I didn’t say had to be in Phoenix. I have to be careful what ask for. And RDC had to meet with law firm regarding mismanagement. Washington DC is concerned about federal financial accountability. Ur not upholding trust responsibility, 2006. Once Council has chance for input then put in draft and share with public.

Just process so RDC not accused and of course we did of not being transparent. All comments proposed were suggestions made at 6 public hearings held regarding grazing act.

I want to preference report with that.

It’s just today’s news.

Begin with short report/summary of Phoenix meeting on draft Range Land Management Act of 2014. And have handout of presentations for reference. Again there is a lot of misconceptions on this process. We have been in this process for year and a half. The purpose of the legislation is to provide Navajo grazing codes to address the drought.

And yes it culminates a lot of comments and misperceptions regarding culture and the Navajo way of life. I appreciate the Committee’s guidance and support for us to go out to the public to gather comments and provide education.

The meeting was to address six issues. We have had 100 public meetings with chapters, some without recordings but there was notetaking. But if recall, we presented draft to Naabik’iyati and focused on six main issues:
Converting grazing officials/elected officials to Full Time Employees
Implementing a grazing fee
Addressing probate issues
Implementing Range Management Unit
Establish brand office
Developing a solution for non-consent for development blockage use/Land locking/Concerns over development, such as homesites, businesses.

There were comments and it was a good work session. Each day involved about 6 to 7 hours. And it was tiring because we do receive the same comments and we try to provide the best answers. Our department is getting better at answering questions.
We presented FTE/Full Time Employee concept and went over three position titles that are available.

We also addressed concerns over sheep units versus livestock units. There is confusion over sheep unit calculations and we are beginning to move away from sheep units.

There were discussions over Grazing Fees: Naabi said that there needed to be a fee and they asked for research into grazing fees. There were suggestions for a 50 cent grazing fee that wud also involve a fee schedule.

And there are pros and cons for a grazing fee and questions about why there should be a Grazing Fee? Our response was to create a quasi-ownership of grazing permit and ownership might not be the correct word. But paying a fee does create a vested interest in what you are doing and the return for paying a fee. And paying a fee also involves being a good steward of the land and a sense of pride.

And to my surprise the general public supported a grazing fee. They said they’d pay a fee as long as they knew where the money was going and if the fee returned to improve the land. And Naabi recommended fifty cents as start point.

But there is a disclaimer in reference to our Findings which show that if we use current information: 11,000 grazing permits and 3,000 active so if impose fee today successfully then about 30 percent of 3,000 grazing permitees would pay fee. And the Bureau of Indian Affairs is recommending that 50 percent of the current grazing fees be re-issued. So the numbers don’t represent a whole lot of revenue.

But there is opposition to any fee. As move forward, can be addressed by Council.

On the issue of PROBATE: in the new regulations, there wouldn’t be probate. About 50 percent of active permits are in probate. And then there are some that are not in probate for a number of reasons involving finances to refusal to have permit in probate. But grazing permit laws mandate that if there is no probate that there should be not activity with that grazing permit. But as we know our Navajo pple still graze livestock.

RMU/RANGE MANAGEMENT UNIT: Discussion that 5 years renewal cycle not enough so maybe 10 years for renewal or exemptions for federal loans dealing with livestock purposes, development. Naabi recommending less than 5 years. And if truly want compliance then perhaps 5 years too long. But we are looking for balance.

BRAND OFFICE: Council passed legislation in 2006 for Agriculture Department to house Brand Office for issuing brands. Concern in western world over physical identification of production of animals and also identification of where animals came from for sale purposes.

FUNDAMENTAL LAW: this is where main concern arose. Heirship’s definition not Navajo but western definition so working with Navajo Department of Justice.

Naabi also concerned over Probate Process and the establishment of a probate process that is based on Dine’ Fundamental Law which involves maternal decisions. There are legal Probate decisions that have been contradicted and creates issues with the development of Navajo Range Land Management Act of 2014.
NAVAJO PARTIION LANDS AND MAC CRAKEN MESA; discussed move out of draft Act but also keep in document. It provides exception but only for period of time. We are trying to put all permittees in one category/system. But have to also deal with court issues, federal, state and tribal.

Guidance for fair standards of fee that shud be in legislation. If enacted today, fee would not yield a lot but give time to work with standards. Also need to look at Impact of renewal of grazing permits.

There is also a main concern from eastern Navajo paying grazing fee and so for consistency is why Grazing Department recommended grazing fee. Eastern does ask why they pay fee and not big Navajo.

Work shop good for program cuz received recommendations from elected officials. We were also asked for more presentations with deadline of April 30 for final draft. DOJ working on final draft and drop proposed legislation but we want to gather as much comments provided.

Know off Navajo but appreciate cuz there was attention.
Look at dates, one held on April 16, which is 30 presentation and it’s to eastern Navajo at request of permit holders. But only one request from one grazing committee. Ask for one RDC representative to attend meeting. And most likely it will be at Fire Rock Casino or Fort Wingate because it is mainly request from chapter officials. Department are sponsoring April 16 and others sponsored by chapters and so they are funding.

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