Clinton approves Navajo business site leasing initiative

WINDOW ROCK—History was made on December 27, 2000, according to Navajo Nation economic development officials, when President Clinton signed into law the “Navajo Nation Trust Leasing Act of 2000,” part of the Omnibus Indian Advancement Act. This law gives the Navajo Nation more authority over leasing of trust land while it reduces the involvement of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The current federal law requires the Secretary of Interior to approve “individual leases.” Under the new law, approval of “individual leases” will rest with the Navajo Nation according to tribal regulations approved by the Secretary of Interior.

Among the various types of land leasing over Navajo trust lands, the Navajo Nation will first implement the law by exercising its authority over individual business site leases.

Currently, the Navajo Nation is allowed through federal law to lease trust lands for business, educational, recreational, residential, religious or for public purposes.

Tony Skrelunas, executive director of the Navajo Nation Division of Economic Development, said the goal of this legislation is to assume more authority over the business site leasing process and reduce the amount of time it takes to obtain a business site lease.

He said the Tulalip Tribe of Washington has a similar delegation process which has sped up its business site leasing efforts by more than 50 percent. The tribe has also implemented innovative and modern business leasing mechanisms.

“The Tulalips are able to compete more effectively in a highly competitive environment,” Skrelunas said. “Here at Navajo, we expect to develop incentives for our business people such as different kind of rentals for entrepreneurs who make improvements into their sites.”

However, Skrelunas said, much of Navajoland is “raw land,” which still needs to be withdrawn for business development, land clearances such as archaeological clearances need to be obtained and infrastructure has to be developed.

“There are very few landuse plans and zoning ordinances on Navajo,” Skrelunas said. “This is why we are developing a property management corporation to complement the land leasing initiative.”

The corporation, he said, will identify prime business development locations throughout the Navajo reservation and undertake all the necessary steps to get the land ready for development, adding, “It is our hope that once all the land clearances have been completed, a business person will be able to get a business site lease within one week,” Skrelunas said.

He said there are many people to thank because it is a team effort, noting, “I would like to thank the Law Office of Sampson Martinez who was instrumental in the research, communication, and coordination of all our discussions and meetings with our Division staff, the Economic Development Committee, President Begaye, and he was our direct liaison to our leaders in Washington, D.C.

“Additionally, I would like to thank President Begaye for his wholehearted support and lobbying efforts in the passage of this very vital legislation that will benefit many potential Navajo and non-Navajo entrepreneurs,” Skrelunas said. “I’d also like to thank Senators Kyle, Domenici, Bingaman, Campbell and Congressman Hayworth for their support on our business site leasing initiative. Kevin Gover has also been very supportive of our efforts to become more effective.”

Skrelunas said Martinez and Division staff have been diligently working for the past 10 years to amend the United States Code Section 415, which allows the Navajo Nation to develop its own leasing regulations, rules and ordinances without approval from the BIA. However, these amendments do not apply to mineral leases.

In a press release issued from the White House, President Clinton, said, “I am pleased to sign into law H.R. 5528, the Omnibus Indian Advancement Act. This Act is the product of lengthy negotiations among the Congress, my administration, tribal governments and other interested parties. I commend all of the participants in these negotiations for their work in producing a bill that benefit many Indian communities.”

Clinton said the Act emphasizes his commitment to self-determination and self-governance of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian people. In respect to economic development, the Act will offer increased economic development opportunities for Indian tribes and it authorizes new activities to help support and improve tribal governance.

Now that President Clinton has given his signature of approval, Skrelunas said the Navajo Nation has to work with the Secretary of Interior to finalize the Navajo Nation leasing rules and regulations through which the Navajo Nation can begin exercising its authority. Economic development officials said they hope the regulations will be approved by the Secretary of Interior by the end of January 2001.

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