On Friday September 26th in Window Rock, Arizona, leaders of the Navajo Nation and the US Government will sign a settlement that compensates the Navajo Nation for the federal government’s mishandling of their land during the past 60 years. This will be the largest ever settlement distributed by the US Government to a Native American tribe.
The Navajo Nation is the largest Native American tribe by both population and mass, with some 300,000 members spanning 27,000 square miles of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. From 1946 – 2012, the US Government held in trust some 14 million acres of Navajo land from which it extracted coal, gas, uranium and oil in what has been deemed an ‘irresponsible manner.’ This payment will settle the lawsuit filed by the Navajo Nation in 2006 that the US government did not negotiate appropriate deals with the entities mining resources from their land, nor did they properly reimburse the tribe for the value of the resources extracted from the land, and they also did not adequately invest the earnings on the tribe’s behalf.
What will the tribe do with half a billion dollars? According to Navajo Nation spokesperson Rick Abasta, this goes some way towards “repairing the wrongs that have been done against the Navajo people” and the money is a “much needed cash infusion” that can help to “address some of the disparities that exist in the Nation.” Specifically, many people in the Navajo Nation are living in poverty, and some 40% are unemployed. Some members of the tribe live in remote areas without running water or electricity, and it is hoped that this money can go towards improving infrastructure, such as roads, power, water and telecommunications. Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly calls the settlement “victory for tribal sovereignty” and promises to hold a town hall to allow tribe members to express their views on how the money should be spent.
To date, the Obama administration has paid out of 2.6 billion in settlements to Native American tribes whose resources had been mismanaged while in trust of the federal government. No amount of money can ever make right the genocide that happened to the indigenous peoples of our country, but the government hopes that these settlements might ‘improve’ the relationship between the US and tribal nations. What do you think?
Image Credits: Photo by Brent Stirton