Forgotten People respond to Tuba City court ruling on Navajo-Hopi compact

The Tuba City District Court issued its order to dismiss the substitute complaint opposing the Navajo-Hopi Intergovernmental Compact on Wednesday, April 25. The Forgotten People represented by attorney James W. Zion, Esq., state they will proceed with an appeal to the Navajo Nation Supreme Court challenging the District Court's dismissal of the suit based on the "public policy" exception under the Sovereign Immunity Act, and to compel the District Court to hold a hearing based on their Motion for Summary judgment. A notice of appeal will be filed with the Navajo Nation Supreme Court before 5 p.m. on Friday, May 25.

Zion says "I think that the District Court's decision is important because it recognizes the contentions of The Forgotten People that the compact illegally takes property (or will allow such "takings") and that it cannot be used to bar claimants from court."

The Forgotten People believe the compact is not in the best interest of the people. Negotiators of the compact took away valuable property rights leaving no process in place to compensate the people for taking their property rights, rights to fee and quiet enjoyment of their land use rights, including customary land use.

The Forgotten People urge anyone whose rights are affected by parties claiming privileges under the compact to contact them in cases of property seizures and specific instances of religious discrimination because the compact does not adequately define why "traditional" religion takes precedence over faiths such as the Native American Church or Christianity and why the Sun Dance religion was specifically targeted.

The court said that the due process and hazho'ogo claims are policy matters that are better left to the political process. The Forgotten People see a movement growing across the Navajo Nation composed of people no longer afraid to challenge the actions of their tribal government. So in conjunction with filing an appeal, the Forgotten People intend to challenge and defeat the political leaders that entered into the compact by pursuing advocacy in the political arena. On Sunday, May 6, elections were held and Articles of Incorporation were adopted so the Forgotten People can more formally incorporate into the Navajo Nation and network with other grassroots organizations.

Sally Tsosie, Forgotten People executive director says "Is the compact a policy or a law? If the Navajo Nation intended the compact to be a law, members of the Navajo Nation Council were never told they were adopting a law. If the compact is a policy, this claim was never made until mid-way through the court process and was only asserted so the Navajo Nation could say we cannot sue because the compact is a policy decision and therefore prohibited by the Sovereign Immunity Act."

Arnold Yellowhorse, Forgotten People president says "The compact is not a policy because it was passed in secrecy and denied the public any opportunity to be involved... If the Navajo Nation intended that the compact be a policy, it had an obligation to allow the public an opportunity to become partners by defining public participation objectives that were integrated into the process of its creation and implementation."

The Forgotten People believe the Navajo Nation must uphold the law that states the Navajo Nation derives its sovereignty from the people they serve. The first step is to create a clear definition of a policy decision-making process that defines realistic expectations regarding all parties' roles in development of policies before legislation is passed to protect and respect the peoples civil and property rights.

To demonstrate their good faith, the Forgotten People urge the Navajo Nation to allow a meaningful process of public involvement regarding the division of monies between the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe for fees collected during the Bennett Freeze period.

Otherwise, the Forgotten People believe the Navajo Nation's share of those monies not specifically dedicated to the needs of the people will not return to the area. If this happens, it's believed that the Navajo Nation will continue a pattern of injustice that has been responsible for over 40 years of suffering and denial.

Marsha Monestersky

Forgotten People consultant


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