Management plan for Diné relocatee fund OK’d
On Tuesday, the Budget and Finance committee approved a fund management plan for the Dine relocatee fund.
The fund was established in a resolution (CJA-13-22) that was signed into law earlier this year on Feb. 13.
The fund is meant to address the concerns of Diné who have been impacted by relocation and the restrictions of living on Hopi Partitioned Land as of Dec. 22, 1974.
The purpose of the fund is to support relocatees with help in housing, infrastructure and education.
The fund will have three different sources. The first source is revenue and income generated from leases and other land uses of the Arizona New Lands, an area being developed by the Navajo-Hopi Relocation Commission, for ventures such as gaming and hospitality enterprises at Twin Arrows.
The second source is any and all monetary damages recovered from the U.S. to settle the litigation in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims on behalf of the relocates.
The third and final source are earnings from investment of the fund.
The management plan is being put in place so the Diné relocatee fund will be managed by the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission office.
The purpose is to ensure that funds collected from revenue or income are used only for the benefit of relocatees, are used promptly and used as provided by the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission. The fund will be monitored and accounted for, including audits.
While the fund is solely for the benefit of relocation beneficiaries, the fund cannot be used for meeting stipends or per capita payments.
Delegate Amber Crotty questioned the restriction against paying each individual a certain sum.
“I just think it’s a lot of red tape when we could just set up a system to process who’s eligible and push out that funding so that they can use it for the benefit of the relocation beneficiaries,” Crotty said.
Delegate Otto Tso, who is the sponsor of the legislation, said per capita payments are not eligible because of a reporting mechanism.
“One day the federal government asks, ‘How have you been utilizing these dollars that has been generated off of the Navajo-Hope Land Settlement Act?’” Tso said.
“For instance, our properties are generating money, these monies on Arizona portion will go into that fund so we don’t want to co-mingle it with the Navajo Rehabilitation Trust Fund, we want to keep it separate so that we identify that there’s two different beneficiaries.”
Susan Eastman, principal attorney and director at the Department of Justice, added that to her knowledge, the 1974 Navajo-Hopi Settlement Act does not authorize per capita payments.
“The 1974 federal law authorized the federal agency known as the Office of Navajo and Hopi Indian relocation to carry out the relocation of Navajos who resided on the HPL as of Dec. 22, 1974,” Eastman said. “ONHIR has never been authorized to give out per capita payments either, their mandate was to carry out the relocation and to provide relocation assistance benefits to those who could show they were eligible.”
Due to the federal law not authorizing per capita payments, the Navajo Nation could not make that authorization.
“Inside the Arizona Navajo-Hopi land Settlement Act on the Arizona portion, has certain beneficiaries and those are the individuals who will be able to benefit from this fund,” Delegate Otto Tso said.
“The Navajo-Hopi Land Commission office will be able to have applications available,” he said, “and they will be doing the screening process.”
He said this fund has been publicized and many people now know about it after Crotty asked if relocatees have been involved in the process.
Since the legislation was approved, there will be an account that needs to be set up within the controller’s office and the land commission office will have primary administrative and management authority for the fund management plan.
“Once this fund management plan goes into place, the land commission will be able to start working to go ahead and finish up that process because they did so much work already, on this,” Tso said. “We’re trying to fast-track a lot of these monies to get out because, again, it’s just been sitting there.”
The Budget and Finance Committee approved the legislation, 3-0. Since the committee was the final authority, the law is in effect.
“I appreciate the Budget and Finance committee for voting affirmative on this legislation and you are going to really help the individuals who are directly impacted by the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act,” Tso said.