Navajo Nation President Shelly advocates for trust modernization

WASHINGTON- In meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly said the purpose of trust reform should be to empower tribes so they can manage their own trust assets.

Shelly made the remarks about Indian trust modernization legislation in a special meeting with lawmakers Feb. 25.

"We are advocating for trust 'modernization' instead of trust 'reform' because we want to do more than mend a flawed system. We want to bring the relationship into the 21st century to empower tribes to manage their resources if they want and are able," Shelly said.

The president said the two trust reform bills, S 383 and HR 812, Congress is considering do not go far enough in implementing the top recommendations by the Congressional American Indian Policy Review Commission or the U.S. Department of Interior's Secretarial Commission on Indian Trust Administration and Reform for more firm direction for all federal agencies on federal trust responsibility obligations.

"There have been countless studies, workgroups, taskforces set up to look at this issue. Indian people, the administration and Congress already know what needs to be done. We need to work together to get the processes, roles and responsibilities in place. We want Congress to support a bolder bill that goes further in recognizing greater tribal sovereignty," Shelly said. "We are looking to a new era where tribes are truly able to enjoy autonomy in their internal affairs."

Shelly added the Navajo Nation's recommendations would enable tribes to grow their own economies, spur job creation and develop a middle class for Indian Country.

"Tribal people deserve a middle class and it is our responsibility as leaders to provide that opportunity," Shelly said. "Congress should merge, improve and oversee the existing Tribal Interior Budget Council and the White House Council on Native American Affairs and reconstitute the National Council on Indian Opportunity. These and other recommendations will invigorate the federal trust dialogue between the federal government and tribal nations."

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