Utah Navajos increasingly concerned about trust fund
by Anna Thayn
Feb 29, 2012 | 3029 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
“I think it’s outrageous on the part of Navajo Nation to selfishly block the opportunity for the Oljato Chapter, and the seven Utah chapters, to address the problems that they have,” said San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams in a discussion regarding funding conflicts regarding the Utah Navajo Trust Fund at the February 27 commission meeting.

The frustration is regarding the selection of a new trustee for the trust fund, which was created for the benefit of Utah Navajos. The Navajo Nation has expressed interest in becoming the trustee, but the action is opposed by a number of Navajos in San Juan County, who fear that the Nation will not use the fund appropriately.

The fund, more commonly known as the Utah Navajo Trust Fund, has been without a trustee since 2008 when the Utah legislature voted to forgo their trust responsibility. Since then, the fund has grown to about $42 million.

A new trustee must be named by Congress. While the Navajo Nation feels it should be the trustee of the fund, many Utah Navajos oppose this move.

According to the act which created the fund, Utah Navajos of San Juan County receive 37.5 percent of royalties generated from 17 oil wells in the Aneth Extension area in Utah. The remaining royalties go to the Navajo Nation central government.

The issue was brought before the commission by county resident Nelson Yellowman of Oljato. Yellowman came to the commission to report that community members are not in favor of the Nation being trustee of the fund but can not agree on who should be the trustee.

Yellowman expressed frustration after attending a February 24 hearing in Oljato that was set by Navajo Nation President Ben Shelley. Shelley did not attend the meeting but was seen the next day at the Monument Valley balloon festival.

Adams said he also attended the hearing and signed up to speak but was never given the opportunity. Adams expressed disappointment about not being allowed to make a statement on behalf of San Juan County.

Adams said he wanted to say that a group of San Juan County residents are the most poverty-stricken people in the state of Utah. They have a fund with a large amount of money that has been tied up and frozen. The fund could address a lot of poverty problems in the area.

Adams said that a number of proposed solutions have been presented to Congress but every time a solution is presented, the Navajo Nation blocks it. Yellowman shared the frustration of Adams.

Commissioner Phil Lyman said it has been suggested that an arbiter is needed to settle the dispute between Utah Navajos and Navajo Nation.

Lyman said when the Utah Attorney General raised the suggestion last week, Lyman said if there is going to be arbitration it should not be over 37.5 percent of the royalties, but for the entire 100 percent of the royalty money.

Commissioners asked Yellowman if he could take the suggestion to the upcoming chapter meeting and get a resolution and proposal. Yellowman expressed frustration that every time he submits a position letter or a resolution, it is not honored.

“I have totally lost confidence in my own people,” said an obviously frustrated Yellowman, who also serves as president of the San Juan School Board.

Adams said he and Commissioner Kenneth Maryboy will be in Washington next week and will address the issue again there. Adams committed that the commission will continue to lobby and help to solve the problem.

Lyman asked why Utah Navajos have not supported the Utah Dine’ Corporation. Yellowman said there needs to be more education because people don’t understand it.

Yellowman said there is a similar problem with the redistricting issue: people don’t understand what is going on with the lawsuit. Yellowman said the Navajo Nation should have presented a plan on how it would work. He said that there are Navajos who live off the reservation who oppose redistricting, as they are taxpayers as well.

Lyman said that the Dine’ Corporation idea is an empty shell that has “never been taken out of the box”. He said that it might be a good possibility if they can get information out to the people to garner support.

“I think there is a perceived attitude that we are holding back information on Utah Dine’ but it hasn’t really been plugged in yet,” said Lyman.

Commissioner Maryboy also expressed frustration with the Navajo Nation and a feeling of being “beaten up by your own government.”  He said that as the only Utah Navajo on the Navajo Nation Council, he feels like he is fighting the whole nation.

“We have always been a bastard child of the Navajo Nation as San Juan County, Utah Navajos,” said Maryboy. He said that the Nation never is around to help Utah Navajos but are always there in Salt Lake City or Washington, D.C. to ask for the money that belongs to the Utah Navajos.

Maryboy told the commission there will be a meeting in Bluff on March 9, at which they will ask chapter officials to discuss the Utah Dine’ Corporation and take a position on the trust fund.

Maryboy said the corporation was formed three years ago to administer the money. “We have been working hard at it and it’s been put together and it’s sitting there,” said Maryboy. “Now people don’t want to use it and want to go back and build another corporation.”

The Commission is allowing space for the Children’s Justice Center at the annex building in Blanding. There are 18 children’s justice centers in Utah and two satellite centers. Two more satellite centers are currently proposed in a bill at the legislature, including the San Juan County center.

Moab Justice Center Director Connie Haycock, who will also oversee the San Juan Center, said the center works with law enforcement, child protection services and victims advocates to provide a place for children to be interviewed in a safe and comfortable setting.  

The center deals with child abuse, including sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, drug endangerment, and children who have witnessed violence.

Juvenile perpetrators under the age of 14 are occasionally interviewed to determine if they themselves are victims of abuse. The centers also help families find necessary services to start the process of recovery, track cases and statistics and assist in making child abuse referrals.

Haycock said there have been 17 cases from San Juan County seen in her office in the past year. The center uses trained professionals to interview children and coordinate forensic medical exams. The Children’s Justice Center is set up under Utah Code and is overseen by the Attorney General’s office and the county attorney.

Sherriff Eldredge said his office supports the center and works often with Haycock. He praised her good work. Eldredge said the annex will work well for the satellite site. The only costs to the county will be the use of the space and a small amount of electricity.

Representatives from several San Juan County agencies who currently work with Haycock praised her work and expressed their support of the center in San Juan County.

In other business, the Commission received a report from Joette Langianese, Executive Director of Friends of Arches and Canyonlands. The non-profit organization is part of the Bates Wilson Legacy Foundation.

Langianese said that the primary function of the group is as stewards of the National Parks. They watch for damage, either human or natural, and report it to the Park Service. The group has a scholarship and grant program. They will introduce the organization on Saturday, March 3 at 4 p.m. at Arches National Park.
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