Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. Vetoes two bills that would have allowed Hogback to negotiate gaming, extend delegate raise deadline

WINDOW ROCK -- Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, Jr., vetoed two bills on Aug. 6 that would have allowed the Hogback Chapter to have its own gaming revenue-sharing plan with the Navajo Nation and another that would have extended the time permitted for chapters to approve a salary increase for Navajo Nation Council Delegates.

In a Aug. 6 memorandum to Navajo Nation Council Speaker Lawrence T. Morgan,

President Shirley reiterated the Navajo Nation1s position that, in accordance with federal law, gaming contracts must be between contractors or states and the Navajo Nation rather than with individual chapters.

"The Navajo Nation Council is well aware of the Navajo Department of Justice

legal opinion that addresses issues related to chapters and gaming," the President wrote. "It is the opinion of the Department of Justice and the Chief Legislative Counsel that, under our law, Navajo Nation chapters are not authorized to own, operate or manage a casino."

"In order for the Nation to succeed in gaming," he said, "it is critical to make sound and reasonable decisions now. I propose that we work together to establish the entity responsible for conducting Navajo Nation-wide gaming activities."

The President noted that provisions of the legislation would have allowed Hogback Chapter to develop and operate a casino in contravention to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the Navajo Nation Gaming Ordinance, the New Mexico State Compact and the attorney general's opinion.

He noted that IGRA and the New Mexico State Compact require that tribal gaming revenues be used for:

¥ tribal government operations or programs.

¥ the general welfare of the Indian tribe and its members.

¥ tribal economic development.

¥ donations to charitable organizations.

¥ to fund operations of local government agencies, and

¥ for the effective regulation of Class III Gaming in which the Nation shall have the sole proprietary interest and be the primary beneficiary.

The President said the legislation did not clearly specify who would be enter into the agreements, who would receive gaming profits, or how profits would be distributed in accordance with federal and state requirements.

President Shirley emphasized that chapters which become gaming sites should be part of the Navajo Nation's planning process. He said it is "a matter of fairness" that all chapters receive revenue from gaming within the Navajo Nation. Consequently, the President said his administration will develop a revenue distribution plan consistent with IGRA and the New Mexico State Compact.

"Most importantly," he wrote, "the Nation must be the responsible entity tofinance the entire cost of casino development, including needed infrastructure, police, fire and emergency services."

This Hogback agreement instead would have required the chapter to financethe entire costs for development, he said. That could result in unconscionable interest rates and an unnecessary economic detriment to the Hogback Chapter and the Nation, he said.

The President also vetoed a bill to amend Title 2 of the Navajo Nation Code that would have extended the time period chapters have to approve a salary increase for council delegates.

"This amendment is a piecemeal approach to what should be a larger government reform effort," he wrote.

Instead, the President recommended the Navajo Nation adopt comprehensivegovernment reforms that not only address delegate salaries but also the balance of power between government branches, the size of the Navajo Nation Council, ways to create a more efficient government and to achieve a process to formally establish the Navajo Nation government.

"Simply extending the time period to obtain chapter approval for a Council delegate salary increase is meaningless if other related reforms are not addressed," he said.

(George Hardeen is Navajo Nation Communications Director.)

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