The trust fund was created to receive 37.5 percent of royalties paid for oil and gas extracted from a small portion of the Navajo Reservation in San Juan County near Montezuma Creek.
The law that created the fund, first passed in 1933, requires Utah to use these funds for the “health, education and general welfare” of all San Juan County Diné, who also are Utah citizens.
At the current time, the fund balance is approximately $52 million.
After years of controversy and lawsuits related to use of the fund, the state of Utah enacted legislation in 2008 to resign as the trustee of the fund.
While Utah asked that the federal law be changed to name another trustee, no such change has occurred or appears likely anytime soon. A small portion of the funds are being expended for college tuition, but other projects are at a standstill.
As a result, a new lawsuit has been filed against the state, arguing that Utah is again depriving the Utah Diné of access to their royalty funds. The standstill has effectively killed projects to provide vital healthcare, law enforcement, road construction, water and power development, and adult education.
A number of groups have attempted to be named as the trustee of the fund, including the Navajo Nation and local officials.
At the April 9 meeting of the San Juan County Commission, Commissioner Kenneth Maryboy said that Navajo Nation President Ben Shelley is attempting to appoint a non-elected individual from Arizona to take Maryboy’s place on the Utah Tribal Leaders Council. Maryboy said there is concern at the Utah State level regarding the issue.
Commissioner Adams said that the board is a Utah organization whose members are elected tribal leaders in Utah and who are under the direction of the Lt. Governor. Adams asked how Shelley thinks he can appoint someone to the board.
Maryboy said that the Speaker of the Navajo Nation Council has asked that Maryboy be reappointed to the Utah Tribal Leaders Council. He adds that the Utah Chapters are drafting resolutions in his support as well. The County will also draft a letter.
Maryboy speculates that the attempt to replace him may be driven by issues related to the Utah Navajo Trust Fund.