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Capital Briefs | Nation wins $31M in judicial services lawsuit against Interior

WINDOW ROCK

The Navajo Nation won a significant victory against the U.S. Department of Interior and was awarded more than $31 million in its litigation against the federal government for lack of sufficiently funding judicial services through contracting under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975, according to a Wednesday judicial branch news release.

The judgment is for the Navajo Nation’s claims in funding for its judicial services in the amounts of $15.7 million (plus interest) for 2015 and $15.6 million (plus interest) for 2016.

Claims for 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 were denied but are appealable.

The Nation’s judicial system is funded in part by a contract through the self-determination act. The contract is funded through an annual funding agreement that is submitted each year to the Department of Interior.

The Nation argued that because its annual funding agreement was deemed to be approved in the amount of $17 million for 2014 in a judgment issued in June 2020 by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, that amount was the new funding floor for the subsequent years.

The Nation has continued to submit proposed annual funding agreements each year for at least $17 million. The court agreed for 2015 and 2016 but not for 2017 to 2020.

The memorandum opinion in Navajo Nation v. U.S. Department of Interior, et al., was issued on March 21 by U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan.

In April 2021, the Navajo Nation established the Hashkééjí Nahat’á Béeso Bá Hooghan for the funds awarded under the litigation.

Nez meets with Haaland, Buttigieg

On March 31, President Nez, on a lobbying trip to Washingdoon with his wife, Phefelia Nez, met with Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, according to the president’s office.

The topic of the meeting was a proposed inter-agency agreement that would streamline rights-of-way clearances to speed up construction of new roads and improvements on the Navajo Nation.

Under current federal laws, tribes must get two separate environmental clearances from federal agencies to proceed with most road projects. This can take several years to complete, said Garret Silversmith, director of the Navajo Division of Transportation, who participated in the meeting virtually.

The proposed inter-agency agreement would eliminate one step by having the Bureau of Indian Affairs transfer its highway rights-of-ways authority to the Federal Highway Administration and the Tribal Transportation Program.

Nez said, “This is an opportunity for the Biden-Harris administration, through the Department of the Interior and Department of Transportation, to do something extraordinary for Indian Country.”

The president’s office did not report the response from Haaland or Buttigieg.

April named “sexual assault awareness month

WINDOW ROCK – On April 1, President Jonathan Nez signed a proclamation to recognize April as “Navajo Nation Sexual Assault Awareness Month.”

The proclamation states that an average of one new case per day of sexual assault is reported to the Navajo Police.

The proclamation acknowledges victims, survivors and advocates and aims to increase awareness and prevention of sexual assault, abuse and harassment in homes, schools, workplaces and communities.

President Jonathan Nez said, “The consequences of sexual assault are severe, ranging from physical, mental, and emotional trauma. Each of us plays a role in protecting those we love, including our grandparents, parents, spouses, daughters, and sons.”

The proclamation acknowledges all the grassroot organizations and groups committed to raising awareness and prevention of sexual assault crimes and cases in Navajo communities.

April is also National Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Nez pushes for radiation act amendments

WINDOW ROCK – President Jonathan Nez met with members of Congress last week to reaffirm support for the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments of 2021, the president’s office reports.

The amendments would extend the act until 2040, expand downwinder eligibility based on geographic residency, and expand the range of years that can be used for calculating exposure for individuals who worked in uranium mines and mills or transported uranium ore.

The act was enacted in 1990, amended in 2000, and is set to expire in July of this year.

The most recent bill was introduced in the U.S. House and Senate on Sept. 22, 2021.

Nez said, “With the current Act set to expire three months from now, we need bipartisan support for the law’s extension and for the reauthorization and expansion of RECA through 2040.”


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