On June 29, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly met with Utah Governor Gary Herbert to address the more than $40 million Utah Navajo Trust Fund and the need for the funds to go to Navajos living in Utah according to a Navajo Nation press release.
“We want the money to go to Utah Navajos,” President Shelly said during the meeting.
The Navajo Utah Trust Fund was created in 1933 when the Aneth Extension area was added to the Navajo Nation. According to the funds website, “the Utah Navajo Royalty Holding Fund is a ‘private purpose’ trust fund of the State of Utah. The majority of the money in this fund comes from oil royalties from production on the Aneth Extension of the Navajo Reservation. These royalties are paid to the trust fund for the health, education, and general welfare of the Navajo residents of San Juan County, Utah.”
This was the first meeting between the two leaders since the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President held a series of town hall meetings in February.
The Trust Fund discussed has been without a trustee since 2008 “when the Utah Legislature voted to forgo trustee status of the fund,” the press release states.
The vote came in the form of House Bill 352 during the Legislature’s General Session “which recognized the repeal of the Utah Navajo Trust Fund. The bill moved responsibility to fulfill the liabilities and obligations of the repealed Utah Navajo Trust Fund to the Department of Administrative Services and provided for a transition process until Congress designates a new recipient of Utah Navajo royalties,” according to the fund’s website.
During the absence of a trustee the funds mission has been “committed to complete existing projects, protect Holding Fund assets, and continue support of the Navajo scholarship program until such time as a new trustee is appointed.”
Since the passing of a 2001 Intergovernmental Relations Committee resolution the Navajo Nation has continually advocated to become the trustee of the fund.
However, that option has not sat well with Utah Navajos.
According to a Navajo Times article from March 1, following a February 22 town hall meeting, a presence of deep-seated distrust of the tribal government and a feeling of neglect was evident among the Utah Navajos.
The article stated, “A resident of Mexican Water [Arizona] noted that the president and Council can change every election year, and wondered if future administrations would reserve the trust fund for Utah Navajos as it was intended.”
While a debate over who should be the trustee continues the fund continues to grow – more than $40 million since 2008 – and remains frozen with no trustee in place according to the Nation press release.
A PowerPoint presentation detailing the fund’s history; thoughts from the town hall meetings and Utah Navajos on how the funds should be used; and who should become trustee was presented on June 29 by Navajo Nation Chief of Staff Sherrick Roanhorse.
“The state of Utah absolutely wants out,” Herbert said about being a trustee of the fund according to the Nation release. “We don’t want to be trustee. We want to push something through Congress to get us out.”
Herbert offered to assist in any way he could in reaching a common solution to establishing a trustee for the funds.
A report released by the Office of the President and Vice President as a wrap up of the town hall meetings addressed how all seven chapters “didn’t have one common solution about a trustee.” Requests for Utah to remain the trustee were present along with distrust not only for the Navajo Nation but for Utah as well.
A possible option that Shelly presented at the meeting was direct payments made to the chapters – which would mean the chapters would need to be certified under the local Governance Act.
“I think its time for them to do something on their own,” Shelly said in the release while stressing to continue working with Utah Navajos, the Council and other leaders to find a resolution for the fund.