YouTube Video: Navajo Nation signing ceremony for $554 million settlement

(l-R) Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly and Speaker Pro Temp LoRenzo Bates held a signing ceremony for a $554 million settlement of a lawsuit against the U.S. at the executive offices in Window Rock, Ariz., on June 4, 2014. Photo by Marley Shebala.

(l-R) Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly and Speaker Pro Temp LoRenzo Bates held a signing ceremony for a $554 million settlement of a lawsuit against the U.S. at the executive offices in Window Rock, Ariz., on June 4, 2014. Photo by Marley Shebala.

This YouTube Video is about: Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly and Navajo Nation Council Speaker Pro Temp LoRenzo Bates held a June 4, 2014, signing ceremony for the $554 million settlement of a lawsuit filed by the tribe against the U.S. for alleged misuse of tribal trust funds. The Council approved the settlement with a vote of 13 in favor, 3 opposed on May 30, 2014.

The $554 m. is expected to arrive in the tribal treasury in 120 days from the day that President Shelly signed the settlement, which was June 4, 2014, in the Office of the President and Vice President in Window Rock, Ariz.
According to an impromptu Question and Answer session with President Shelly, Deputy Attorney General Dana Bobroff and Council Delegate Lorenzo Curley, who served as the Council’s Task Force on the Negotiating a Settlement, there is no investment or expenditure plan for the $554 million.

President Shelly opened the signing ceremony by recalling the Navajo Nation Council’s Naabik’iyati Committee meeting at Fire Rock Casino near Church Rock, N.M., on May 29, 2014.
Shelly recalled that the Naabiki’iyati Committee decided that the tribe needed to take immediate action and sign the settlement agreement with U.S.
He added that the committee discussed the five day public comment period on the settlement and the committee felt that the settlement needed to move forward as quickly as possible.
Shelly emphasizes that an “investment plan,” and not an “expenditure plan” will be developed.

Navajo Justice Department Deputy Attorney General Dana Bobroff explained to President Shelly that as soon as he signs the settlement, which the Council approved on May 30, 2013, that the time clock would start running on the 120 days for the federal government to deposit the $554 million into the tribal treasury.
Bobroff added that the $554 million is in Washington, D.C., and that “we need to go get the money” so the tribe can start investing it and generating interest from it.

As Shelly was signing all the documents related to the settlement, Speaker Pro Temp LoRenzo Bates thanked everyone for attending the settlement signing ceremony.
Bates emphasized that the settlement sends word out to all the tribe in Indian country that all the tribes that were in same situation as the Navajo Nation and that settlement is a solution. The Navajo Nation is the largest tribe in the country.
Thank you to the Task Force, he added. “They did a major job.”

Task Force Chairperson Lorenzo Curley asks Shelly for time to make statement on behalf of the task force but Shelly says he wants to present an award.

Shelly had said before the settlement signing ceremony started that Bobroff, as a private attorney and tribal deputy attorney general, had dedicated most of her time to the settlement.
His award to Bobroff was a Pendleton robe that he wrapped around her.

After the presentation of a Pendleton robe by President Shelly, Deputy Attorney General Dana Bobroff said, “I cannot speak without tears running down face.”
Bobroff adds that everyone needs to realize that this settlement is a historic landmark accomplishment for the Navajo Nation. There is misconception sometimes that the Navajo Nation has not attempted to hold the US responsible for its trust responsibility and “that is just outright wrong.” The Navajo Department of Justice and outside counsel have sued the US six times for trust responsibility over the years. This settlement happens to be the final lawsuit at this point in time for “historical wrong.”
”This is monumental,” Bobroff said. This is largest trust responsibility in Indian Country. The settlement will never address all wrongs but it allow for future generations.
Thank you for allowing me to work on this and there is nothing better then to share that with friends. And you are all my friends, she said.

Attorney General Harrison Tsosie provided a historical synopsis.
Back in the 1800s, when U.S. forming, there were federal court decisions and one to note is the Marshall Triology. And one of the Triology to highlight is Johnson versus MacIntosh in which the US Supreme Court determined the status of the newly discovered lands. And based on that opinion, the Supreme Court determined that European Nations gained legal title to Indigenous lands based on discovery and that the rights of Indigenous people to occupy their lands started from time immemorial, which gave Indians the “Indian title of occupancy” and from that case, a concept evolved that the federal government holds title to Indian tribal lands in trust for Indian tribal Nations and its members.
“As a result of these pronouncements, many numerous statutes, court determinations, treaties have been signed based on that legal document, which evolved today to the United States holding our lands in trust for the Navajo Nation. And when they breach that trust, we have a right to make the United States accountable for mismanagement of these resources. And that’s what this case is about.
“From the mid-1940s to today, we are holding the United States accountable for the mismanagement of our trust funds of our lands, of our resources. And as Dana (Bobroff) said this is not full retribution for mismanagement of those resources. However it is a settlement that we can also be proud of because we have to remember that we pursue these cases in the courts of the United States and in many cases, has been previously shown in Navajo One and Navajo Two cases, we’ve been home towned and we didn’t get a cent out of those cases that we spent a lot of dollars on.
“But I also want to say that this effort involved a lot of resources of the Navajo people, in terms of funding to the Navajo Department of Justice, where we were able to procure the services of outside legal counsel – the Nordhaus Law Firm and I want to mention Allen Terdash, who worked tirelessly to develop the legal strategy to pursue these particular claims, and his staff Don Grove, Lujan, Tim Peckman, and other staff member, including Dana (Bobroff) when she worked there…
“Recently we changed horses, so to speak, to the Buckley Sander Law Firm – Andrew Sandler and Samuel Buffone, who also assisted us in the Peabody litigation.
“So this is long hard fought battle in the court room with a lot of legal strategy. We spent an inordinate amount of time collecting evidence during the last eight years. And all of the divisions, departments, programs should also be commended for their staff in spending a lot of effort in gathering evidence….for this successful conclusion.”

Shelly also adds his appreciation.

Shelly, the Navajo Council’s Task Force members and tribal staff that were involved in the settlement then pose for a group photo. From left to right are Council Delegates Walter Phelps and Lorenzo Curley; Deputy Attorney General Dana Bobroff; Delegates Roscoe Smith and Jonathan Nez; Attorney General Harrison Tsosie; Tax Office director Martin Ashley, and Chief of Staff Arbin Mitchell. Seated are President Ben Shelly and Speaker Pro Temp LoRenzo Bates.

Task Force President Lorenzo Curley then makes a statement on behalf of task force and notes that there is much that the task force could not talk about because of confidentiality.
But Curley said the task force really pushed the attorneys, who he described as “conservative.”
And so he said when the federal government gave them a settlement amount, they knew that they could accept it.
Curley also thanked the task force and everyone involved in the settlement.

As Shelly ended the settlement signing ceremony without allowing for a Question & Answer session with the media, I asked a few questions:
What will the $554 million be spent on?
PRESIDENT SHELLY: We’re not there yet.
Will there be public hearings on how the $554 million will be spent?
PRESIDENT SHELLY: We will decide. You’re always ahead of us. We’re not moving that fast. We’ll let you know.
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL DANA BOBROOF: Unlike prior settlements and judgments with the United States, the United States did not force the Navajo Nation to submit an expenditure plan. How the Navajo Nation determines to spend the money is a choice for the Navajo Nation. The legislation that was passed by the Council does not make that choice. It’s a future choice.
When will the Navajo people see the $554 million in the tribal treasury?
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL DANA BOBROOF: Okay, the agreement is that it will be transferred from the United States within a 120 days of the execution (signing) of the (settlement) legislation by the President (Shelly). Within a 120 days from now, it should be transferred to the Navajo Nation’s treasury.
(Someone in the background says “By Thanksgiving.”) I have not counted out 120 days but one of the evaluations that was done over and over again has to do with the fact that the President (Shelly) mentioned, while the money is with the United States, the Navajo Nation is not earning any interest. That at a very conservative rate of interest of about 8 percent equates to $1.2 million a week. So the sooner…that re-enforced expediency to get the money here.
NAVAJO COUNCIL TASK FORCE CHAIRPERSON LORENZO CURLEY: We talked about an expenditure plan. (Someone in back ground says “Investment plan.) I want to call it an expenditure plan. Our recommendation, let’s phrase it that way, The Task Force wants to get together in the coming weeks and discuss how, what we can do with that money. And once we arrive at a plan, we’re going to make a recommendation to the Navajo Nation Council on how we should invest this money, some of it maybe. All of this is going to come together and the Task Force will make a recommendation. In the coming weeks, we will be getting together and talking about this. And we’ll be involving the president’s office, as well as the speaker’s office in formulating this recommendation plan.
If you’re constituents want to be involved, can they send comments, similar to the five-day comment period for legislation? And where would they submit their comments?
I do intend to speak to my communities and I will urge the other delegates to do as well. During the negotiations, we got clearance from our attorneys and the attorneys for the United States that we can just talk about the lawsuit and I did. And I mentioned that we are in negotiations with the United States for fund mismanagement and resource mismanagement. So they are aware of that. And now that we have a settlement, I’m going to go back to my communities and ask them, “What are your recommendations? How should we spend this money? I’ll take their recommendations back to the Task Force and we will talk about discussing them. Whatever we decide as we go along in formulating this recommendation plan, we’ll keep the communities informed about how we are proceeding.” Thank you.

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