Navajo Utah Commission identifies priorities for upcoming Utah legislative session

The Navajo Utah Commission outlined their priorities for the upcoming Utah legislative session at their December 8 meeting.

The Navajo Utah Commission is made up of chapter presidents from the seven chapters in San Juan County. In addition, the Commission includes members of the Navajo Nation Council who represent Utah Navajos. The commission meets monthly to discuss issues related to the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation.

During a full meeting, members of the commission passed a resolution identifying ten priorities for the upcoming Utah legislative session. The commission also expressed plans to hire a lobbyist to aid their efforts. The 45-day Utah state legislative session is set to convene on January 19, 2021.

Among items of interest is acquiring funds to help build infrastructure at the Westwater community. Westwater, located west of Blanding, is not within the Navajo Nation boundaries, but the Navajo Nation owns the 100 plus acres on which the community sits.

In the 2020 legislative session, $500,000 of the state budget was set aside to bring electricity and water to Westwater. The project had support from the Navajo Nation, Rep. Phil Lyman, Utah Navajo Trust fund, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and other entities.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the state in early March, so did uncertainty about the state budget, and the state removed funding for the project before it could get underway.

In the upcoming session, the Navajo Utah Commission asks that the state legislature again make funding a priority for the project at Westwater.

Other priorities include renewing the Navajo Nation hunting cooperative agreement with the State of Utah.

The Utah and Navajo Nation hunting agreement is required as part of the Navajo Treaty of 1868 and is updated as needed.

In August, the San Juan County Commission discussed a resolution requesting the state to allow members of the Navajo Nation to obtain free hunting permits from the state.

Commissioner Kenneth Maryboy spoke for the resolution, with Commissioner Bruce Adams opposed. Commissioner Willie Grayeyes said the topic is sensitive and asked the commission to table the issue for future consideration.

Currently, 270 deer tags are reserved each year to be sold to Utah members of the Navajo Nation. The tags are sold at $40 a tag. A Utah hunting license must also be purchased at a cost of $34. The tags sell out every year.

The Navajo Utah Commission will also look for support from the state with matters technically outside of the state legislature.

The voter settlement agreement between the Navajo Nation and San Juan County expires at the end of 2020. The commission is asking for state involvement in renewing the agreement.

The commission will also ask for support for the Navajo Utah Water Rights Settlement act. The federal legislation is sponsored by Utah Senator Mitt Romney and has support from Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.

The resolution passed through the U.S. Senate and is now waiting to be passed in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The bill settles all current and future claims by the Navajo Nation for water rights within Utah, thus precluding costly future litigation for all parties.

The settlement provides the Navajo Nation with the right to use 81,500 acre-feet of water per year from the Colorado River Basin apportionment for Utah.

It also authorizes $210 million for water infrastructure to access the water on the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation. The State of Utah has approved an $8 million contribution in funding of the settlement.

The Navajo Utah Commission resolution also prioritizes other needs, such as travel, education, internet access and health care.

Transportation requests include funding for reconstruction of Highway 162 between Aneth and Montezuma Creek, as well as a roundabout for the main intersection in Montezuma Creek.

The commission will also request a fence along Highway 163 going into Monument Valley and continued work to construct and pave a road between Navajo Mountain and Oljato.

The commission asks for prioritization for education efforts in the San Juan School District, continued support of the broadband project to bring internet access to much of the Navajo portion of San Juan County, and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to Navajos served by the Utah Navajo Health System.

The commission made it a priority to establish an ongoing relationship between the Navajo Utah Commission and incoming Utah Governor Spencer Cox.

The commission also received a report from the Rural Utah Project on the nonprofit efforts to increase voter registration and turnout among Navajo voters.

Rural Utah Project reported record high registration and turnout for the November 3 general election in the five Native-majority voting precincts in San Juan County.

The commission also heard from Mike Halona, Department Director of the Navajo Land Director. Halona gave a presentation explaining why chapter boundaries are slightly different from grazing boundaries on the Navajo Nation.

A slight variance in maps has caused some confusion near the Red Mesa and Sweetwater boundaries.

The boundary that runs with the Utah-Arizona state line represents the chapter boundary, while there is some slight variance when working with grazing officials.

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