Proposed committee to examine Navajo, state relations

PHOENIX — Arizona lawmakers are considering establishing a committee to examine the relationship between the state and the Navajo Nation, including the areas of sovereignty, taxation and education.

After research and study, the 11- member committee would make recommendations on increasing partnership efforts between the two governments.

The House of Representatives Native Americans Affairs Committee unanimously passed the measure, SB 1342 Thursday. Now the bill faces a vote before the full House, having already passed the Senate.

Sen. Jack Jackson, D-Window Rock, told the committee he sponsored the bill in an effort to educate the general public and American Indian people about ways to bring the groups closer together.

“Maybe it’s about time we sat down and discussed these issues (in order to) come up with a formal relationship,” Jackson said, “We need to have an understanding on how we’re supposed to live together.”

The committee would be comprised of four members of the House of Representatives, four members of the Senate, one member of the Commission of Indian Affairs and two members representing Indian tribes.

The committee would have several study goals. One would be to review the history of the Navajo Nation and its status at the time of Arizona statehood.

Other goals include a review of the legal implications relating to sovereignty and taxation, a compilation of state assistance programs to the Navajo Nation, and a determination of which colleges and universities provide courses on reservation land.

The final goal of the study committee would be to evaluate the implications of making the Navajo Nation a separate county.

Jackson said that last point would be considered only after the committee covers the other issues.

“Will a separate county help us to achieve some of the things we want?” Jackson said, adding that the answer will require a long discussion among tribal members.

Rep. Jake Flake, R-Snowflake, said the purpose of the Native American Affairs Committee is to establish the responsibilities the tribes have toward themselves. Flake added that the study committee is proposed for the Navajo Nation set a pattern for other tribes to follow.

“This could go a long way toward what we need to be doing,” Flake said.

Rep. Sylvia Laughter, D-Kayenta, pointed out the unique nature of the tribal governments and how they differ from the state’s system.

“ (The study committee) will help to identify the differences and bridge that knowledge gap we have,” Laughter said. “This is not going to end until there is an understanding. We all want the same things for our people, whatever color we are.”

Larry Foster, advisor to the Navajo Nation on economic development and taxation, said the Navajo people have contributed much to American society, yet remain largely misunderstood. Foster said the Navajo nation’s sovereignty is the cornerstone of the tribal way of life. “Sovereignty to us means to be able to become self-reliant,” Foster said.

“We need to work together, it may take years, but this is a good start,” Foster added. “The more we can educate each other about the two unique worlds, the more we can help each other.”

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