Navajo Nation settles with feds over trust fund mismanagement claims

shellyThe Navajo Nation Council voted 13-3 late last week to approve an agreement that will award the Navajo Nation a total of $554 million from the United States and brings an end to the Navajo Nation’s lawsuit against the United States over “historical mismanagement of trust fund assets.”

The Navajo Nation and U.S. Departments of Justice, Interior, and Treasury reached an agreement in principle over the Navajo Nation’s claims that the United States had breached its fiduciary obligations arising under treaties, executive orders, federal statutes and regulations, and contractual documents by failing to manage, invest and account for tribal trust funds and resources under the custody and control of the United States in a manner that would maximize the financial return from those assets.

The $554 million agreement is the largest single resolution in the more than 100 cases filed against the United States by American Indian tribes by more than $170 million.

The agreement secures a resolution to the claims dating as early as 1946, that the United States mismanaged the Navajo Nation’s trust assets. Under the terms of the agreement, the Navajo Nation will dismiss its pending lawsuit which was filed on December 29, 2006 in the United States Court of Federal Claims.

“The agreement marks the successful conclusion of years of hard fought litigation and secures a very substantial award for the Navajo Nation,” said Naabik’iyátí’ Committee Trust Mismanagement Litigation Task Force chair Council Delegate Lorenzo Curley (Houck, Klagetoh, Nahata Dziil, Tsé Si áni, Wide Ruins).

Under the agreement, the United States also commits to providing the Navajo Nation with all required reports of assets that continue to be held in trust for the benefit of Navajo.

The Trust Mismanagement Litigation Task Force comprised of Council Delegates Russell Begaye, Lorenzo Curley (chair), Charles Damon, Walter Phelps, Alton Joe Shepherd, Roscoe Smith (vice chair), Leonard Tsosie and Dwight Witherspoon, has guided Navajo Nation DOJ and outside counsel throughout the litigation.

Task force members also emphasize that the terms of the agreement do not impact the Navajo Nation’s existing or potential water and uranium claims, and is separate from and do not impact Navajo allottee claims.

“I am pleased with the awarded amount and it demonstrates our Nation’s sovereignty as we were in the driver’s seat throughout the negotiations,” stated task force member Delegate Shepherd.

Navajo Nation executive branch representatives, including President Ben Shelly, Chief of Staff Arbin Mitchell, executive director of the Office of Navajo Tax Commission Martin Ashley, Minerals Department Audit Manager Rowena Cheromiah, Washington Office Executive Director Clara Pratte and Division of Natural Resources Principal Attorney Robert Allan, were also instrumental in providing guidance to successfully conclude the negotiations.

Final execution of the agreement and payment to the Navajo Nation is contingent on final review and approval of the terms of the agreement by President Shelly and the U.S. Departments of Justice, Interior, and Treasury.

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