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

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following editorial was originally published in the May 23 issue of the Navajo Hopi Observer. However, due to an unforeseen technical error, it did not print correctly. The Navajo Hopi Observer apologizes for any inconvenience(s) this error may have caused.

The Tuba City District Court on the Navajo Nation issued its order to dismiss the Complaint opposing the Navajo-Hopi Intergovernmental Compact on Wednesday, April 25. A briefing notice was issued by the Navajo Supreme Court and Forgotten People, represented by James W. Zion, Esq., will file their brief in the Navajo Supreme Court prior to Thursday, July 5.

Forgotten People will challenge the District Court's dismissal of the suit based on the "public policy" exception under the Sovereign Immunity Act, and compel the District Court to hold a hearing based on their motion for summary judgment.

The "Bennett Freeze," which lasted 40 years and denied thousands of Navajo people the right to repair their homes, build new homes, have access to water and infrastructure was purportedly resolved when the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe approved a Compact intended to end the tragic Navajo-Hopi land dispute. The tragedy of the longstanding dispute is compounded by the fact that when the Navajo Nation reached the approval process for the Compact, it did not tell the affected people in the Western Agency and the "Bennett Freeze" area what was in it. The Navajo Nation did not take the Compact to the people in chapter or other meetings so they could know what was in it and give their comments.

James W. Zion, Esq., Attorney for Forgotten People 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") without just compensation and that it cannot be used to deny people's right of access to the courts."

Forgotten People believes the Compact is not in the best interest of the people. Negotiators of the Compact negotiated away valuable property rights with no process in place for compensation for a taking of the people's property rights, rights to fee and quiet enjoyment of their land use rights, including customary land use.

Forgotten People urges anyone whose rights are affected by parties claiming privileges under the Compact to contact our organization so we can file suit for their injuries, including takings issues 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 was specifically targeted.

The court said that the due process and hazho'ogo claims (to proceed carefully under Navajo fundamental law) are policy matters that are better left to the political process. Forgotten People sees a mass 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, is getting organized, will incorporate on the Navajo Nation and network with other grassroots organizations.

Sally Tsosie, Executive Director of Forgotten People 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 midway 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, President of Forgotten People says, "The Compact is not a policy because it was passed in secrecy and denied the public any opportunity to be involved when it was rushed for adoption as an election ploy. 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 rule of law that states, the Navajo Nation derives its sovereignty from the people they serve. The first step the Navajo Nation must make 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 into the disposition of monies divided 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, the Navajo Nation will continue a pattern of injustice that has been responsible for 40 years of suffering and denial for the people.

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