October is nationally recognized as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Domestic and dating violence, rape and sexual assault remain pervasive problems in our community and our society. The violence affects every aspect of our lives, from our health, to our safety, to our children’s ability to learn, to our productivity as workers. October’s events are held in remembrance of those who have suffered and lost their lives to domestic violence and to honor the survivors who are still with us today. It is a wonderful opportunity to educate the public and community on the seriousness of domestic violence and to provide ways to support this very important cause.
I am deeply honored to stand here today with the leaders and members of the Navajo Nation and my colleagues from the Department of the Interior to share in this momentous occasion, one that marks a new era in the enduring trust relationship between the United States and the Navajo Nation.
I want to thank President Ben Shelly, Speaker Pro Tempore [LoRenzo] Bates, Attorney General [D. Harrison] Tsosie, and Trust Mismanagement Litigation Task Force Chair Lorenzo Curley, as well as all the tribal officials and members who have joined us today. Thank you all for welcoming us to your beautiful home. I’m also delighted to be here with Secretary Jewell and Assistant Secretary Washburn, who are leading great efforts to support and strengthen American Indian tribal sovereignty and to fulfill the historic trust responsibility of the United States.
For decades, the United States and Indian tribes have struggled — sometimes side-by-side and sometimes at odds — to resolve, with finality, long-standing problems related to the United States’ management of tribal funds and resources. In that context, the Navajo Nation pursued its own claims for past failures, most recently in a lawsuit raising deficiencies that spanned decades and addressed the entire breadth of the Navajo Nation’s funds and resources. That litigation, unfortunately, stood in the way of furthering the relationship between the United States and the Navajo Nation.
As the novelist James Baldwin once wrote: “People are trapped in history, and history is trapped in them.” In some ways, this statement might characterize the greater part of the historical relationship between the United States and Indian country. But today we come together to move beyond the worst parts of that history and to embrace the future.
Another man, at the founding of the United States, took pen in hand and wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” But for more than a century after these words marked the foundation of this nation and the launch of constitutional democracy in the world, those same words proved empty for American Indians, who watched their numbers, their power, and their traditions erode as the United States expanded from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
As the United States grew, it entered into treaties that exchanged territory for peace and promises to hold in trust the sacred lands and natural resources of American Indians. Until recently, too many of these promises were broken. The trust responsibility that the United States government had assumed was viewed as a burden, as a “problem” to be “solved,” not as a sacred vow to be upheld.
The Navajo people know this narrative all too well, beginning with the “Long Walk” when your ancestors were forced to march away from this beautiful home to an internment camp in the Bosque Redondo. In 1868, once the reservation proved to be a failure, the Dine returned to their homeland under a treaty with the United States. But the cycle of history continued, with promises made and promises broken, and in many ways American Indians became “trapped” in a cycle of distrust, disenfranchisement, and disappointment.
As Attorney General Holder told tribal leaders last November at the White House Tribal Nations Conference: “Far too much of our history has been defined by violence and deprivation. Far too many promises have been broken. Far too many tribes have been told that their lands, religions, cultures, and languages were somehow not theirs to keep. That their rights could be abridged or denied without the guarantee of due process. That they could not vote. And that the only course of action available to them would be to move on, to give up, and — quite simply — to forget.”
But in the last five and a half years, under the leadership of President Obama, Attorney General Holder, and Secretaries Salazar and Jewell, we have seen the dawn of an era of unprecedented partnership, of unparalleled support and respect for tribal sovereignty.
Part of this effort is an attempt to fairly and honorably put some of our history behind us. As the Attorney General said in a statement today, the Department of Justice has made honoring and fostering the trust relationship between the United States and American Indian tribes a top priority. Resolving the claims in these trust accounting and management cases, he said, “strengthens this relationship and allows us to move ahead into a future embodied by mutual respect and partnership.”
In this Administration we are striving to break the cycle of history, to relieve future generations of a dispute that has sorely burdened both of our sovereign governments. We recognize that the journey we are on together constitutes a future, a fortune and fate that we all share, and leads us toward a new day in the government-to-government relationship between the United States and the Navajo Nation. And it does so through a fair and honorable resolution of the Navajo Nation’s claims concerning the federal government’s management of the Nation’s trust funds and resources.
From his first days in office, President Obama has worked to honor the government-to-government relationships between the United States and tribal governments. Truly, this settlement is yet another example of the Administration’s promise to strengthen the ties between the United States and the Navajo Nation. And it reflects my personal commitment to resolving long-standing lawsuits rather than wasting the time and resources of both the United States and Indian tribes in contentious litigation.
By providing fair compensation for the Navajo Nation’s “breach of trust” claims, this settlement will provide substantial tangible benefits to the Navajo Nation and its members. These benefits include monetary relief, as well as commitments by the United States government to improve the way in which it carries out the trust relationship with the Navajo Nation.
This resolution, however, benefits not only the Navajo Nation; it benefits all Americans. By amicably settling these claims on terms that are fair and reasonable, we avoid the expense and drain on federal resources resulting from unnecessary litigation.
There are many people who deserve recognition for achieving such a meaningful resolution:
- Most importantly, I am immensely grateful for the hard work of the Navajo Nation, President Shelly, Attorney General Tsosie, Deputy Attorney General Bobroff and the Nation’s outside counsel in engaging with the United States in meaningful mediation of the Nation’s claims and working toward this successful settlement.
- Also I would like to thank our colleagues at the Department of the Interior — including Secretary Jewell, Assistant Secretary Washburn, Acting Principal Deputy Solicitor Jack Haugrud, and Acting Director of the Solicitor’s Indian Trust Litigation Division, Ken Dalton, who is also here with us today. The commitment from Interior — at the highest levels — to resolve tribal trust claims expeditiously has been reflected in the hard work and dedication of countless Interior Department staff.
- Finally, I would like to thank my predecessor Bob Dreher, the Chief and Deputy Chief of our Natural Resources Section, Lisa Russell and Jim Gette, and the other dedicated attorneys in the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division who worked so hard to reach this historic settlement.
This settlement between the United States and the Navajo Nation, while unique, is not unprecedented. From the beginning of this Administration until today, the United States has reached settlements with 80 federally recognized Indian tribes. Yet I am keenly aware that we haven’t concluded our work. So, while we celebrate a significant milestone today, we know that there are other cases still pending that require our continued attention.
Today’s settlement is yet another significant step toward closing a long and difficult chapter of our history, and demonstrates the Administration’s unwavering commitment to moving forward through a more constructive relationship with millions of Native Americans. In that context, I look forward to working with the Navajo Nation and its leaders and members to achieve our broader shared goals.
Thank you very much.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today announced the settlement of a lawsuit filed by the Navajo Nation regarding the U.S. government’s management of funds and natural resources that it holds in trust for the Navajo Nation. The settlement resolves a long-standing dispute, with some of the claims dating back more than 50 years, and brings to an end protracted litigation that has burdened both the Navajo Nation and the United States.
Secretary Jewell joined Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resource Division Sam Hirsch, and numerous tribal officials at a commemorative signing ceremony held in Window Rock, Arizona today.
“This settlement reflects our continuing commitment to upholding the federal trust responsibility to Indian Country and to building strong, prosperous and resilient tribal communities,” said Secretary Jewell. “The historic agreement strengthens the government-to-government relationship between the United States and the Navajo Nation, helps restore a positive working relationship with the Nation’s leaders and empowers Navajo communities. The landmark Cobell settlement and resolution of 80 other tribal trust management lawsuits under President Obama has opened a new chapter in federal trust relations with tribes and individual Indian beneficiaries.”
“This historic agreement resolves a longstanding dispute between the United States and the Navajo Nation, including some claims that have been sources of tension for generations,” said Attorney General Holder. “The Department of Justice has made it a top priority to honor and foster the trust relationship between the United States and American Indian tribes. This landmark resolution ends protracted and burdensome litigation. It will provide important resources to the Navajo Nation. And it fairly and honorably resolves a legal conflict over the accounting and management of tribal resources. This demonstrates the Justice Department’s firm commitment to strengthening our partnerships with tribal nations — so we can expand cooperation, empower sovereign tribes, and keep moving forward together with mutual respect and shared purpose.”
“This historic settlement demonstrates how President Obama and his administration remain deeply committed to the federal trust relationship and improving the United States’ relationship with the tribes,” said Assistant Secretary Kevin K. Washburn. “The Bureau of Indian Affairs will work even more closely with the Navajo Nation through improved cooperation, consultation and communication to ensure proper management and protection of its trust funds and resources.”
The Navajo Nation is the largest Indian tribe in the United States, with over 300,000 members. The Nation has the largest reservation in the United States, encompassing over 27,000 square miles of land in the states of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. The reservation includes more than 14 million acres of trust lands, which are leased for various productive uses, including farming; grazing; oil, gas, and other mineral development; businesses; rights-of-way; timber harvesting; and housing. The Navajo Nation also owns or has ownership interests in over 100 trust accounts.
Under the agreement, the United States will pay the Navajo Nation $554 million in settlement of its claims. In return, the Navajo Nation will dismiss its current lawsuit and forego further litigation regarding the United States’ historic management or accounting of Navajo funds or resources held in the trust by the United States. The Navajo Nation and the United States will undertake prospectively information-sharing procedures that will lead to improved communication concerning the management of Navajo’s trust funds and resources, and also the parties will abide by alternative dispute resolution procedures to reduce the likelihood of future litigation.
In addition to the negotiations that led to this historic settlement with the Navajo Nation, the Departments of Justice, the Interior, and the Treasury have been diligently engaged in settlement conversations involving other litigating tribes. On April 11, 2012, the United States announced settlements with 41 tribes for about $1 billion. Since that time, the federal government has focused considerable dedicated effort on the remaining tribal trust accounting and trust mismanagement cases and has been able to resolve “breach of trust” claims, without the need for further extended litigation, of almost 40 additional tribes, for over $1.5 billion.
The United States will continue settlement discussions in numerous other cases that are still pending and is committed to resolving the litigating tribes’ trust accounting and trust mismanagement claims in a manner that is fair and reasonable to the tribes and the United States.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Assistant Secretary Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn, Acting Assistant Attorney General Sam Hirsch to Join Navajo Nation Tribal Leaders & Members to Announce Multi-Million Dollar Settlement in Historic Signing Ceremony at Window Rock
WASHINGTON, D.C. – As part of the Obama Administration’s commitment to strengthen the government-to-government relationship with tribal nations and fulfill federal trust obligations, on Friday, September 26, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn and Acting Assistant Attorney General Sam Hirsch of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division will join Navajo Nation tribal leaders and members to announce a major tribal trust accounting settlement.
The announcement will be made at Window Rock Tribal Park and will include a signing ceremony. Friday’s announcement marks a significant milestone in the Obama Administration’s commitment to resolving tribal trust management lawsuits with Native American tribes.
The Navajo Nation is the largest Native American tribe in the United States, with more than 300,000 members. The Nation has the largest reservation in the United States, encompassing more than 27,000 square miles of land in the states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. The reservation includes more than 14 million acres of trust lands, which are leased for various productive uses, including farming; grazing; oil, gas, and other mineral development; businesses; rights-of-way; timber harvesting; and housing. The Navajo Nation also owns or has ownership interests in over 100 trust accounts.
Sally Jewell, U.S. Secretary of the Interior
Press Conference and Signing Ceremony to Announce Major Tribal Trust Accounting Settlement
Friday, September 26, 2014
Window Rock Tribal Park
Credentialed members of the media interested in covering the announcement are encouraged to RSVP HERE by September 25, 2014 at 5 p.m. MST.
This event will be live-streamed at here.
Phoenix, AZ – September 22, 2014 – One year after the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in favor of public schools in Cave Creek Unified School District v. Ducey, parents, teachers and education advocates are calling for an end to delay tactics and legal maneuvers by the state that are keeping more than $300 million out of Arizona district and charter schools this school year.
“Arizona schools have yet to see any of the money they are owed by the State Legislature since last year’s ruling because the state has engaged in stall tactics and is now attempting to tie up the case in appeals,” said Dr. Tim Ogle, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association. “Compounding the issue and the urgency is the fact the Legislature stopped funding our classrooms as the law requires beginning in the 2009-2010 school year.”
As a result, more than half-a-million Arizona district and charter school students – those children who are in kindergarten, first, second, third, fourth and fifth grade this school year – have never had the opportunity to learn in a classroom that was funded in the manner the voters intended when they passed Prop. 301 in 2000.
“Our elected officials have let me down as a voter and taxpayer, but worse they have let down my children, our school community and the committed teachers who have been charged with laying the foundation for their educational success during these important early years,” said Jen Darland, a Tucson parent of a third-grader and a fifth-grader who attend public school.
Prop. 301 requires that the Arizona State Legislature provide small increases to the state’s base funding level for education each year to account for increases in the costs of basic goods and services. The Legislature has not done so since fiscal year 2009. In June 2010, a coalition of Arizona school districts and education organizations filed a lawsuit to compel the Legislature to meet this legal obligation. The courts have agreed with the position of public schools, however, to date no funds have been provided.
“As a teacher, the academic success of each of my students is important to me; however, I can only do so much with so little support from the state,” said Beth Maloney, a fifth-grade teacher at Dysart USD’s Sunset Hills Elementary School and the 2014 Arizona Teacher of the Year. “With increasing class sizes and higher expectations, I am not able to spend as much individual time with my students. Arizona’s children deserve better from our state. They deserve a fully funded education and a learning environment that will give the best chance at success in life after high school.”
Failure to fund the inflation increase required by the passage of Prop. 301 has been exacerbated by recent cuts in Arizona per-pupil funding, which were the steepest in the nation during the Great Recession. The collective results have included larger class sizes, parents and teachers paying more out-of-pocket for classroom supplies, and a shortage of quality teachers.
“The greatest impact of the Legislature’s decision to not provide the statutory base support level has been to reduce our ability to attract and retain teachers,” said Frank Davidson, superintendent of the Casa Grande Elementary School District. “We have very real and pressing challenges that will ultimately impact student learning. Our state cannot afford to shortchange our children’s education in year-long appeals.”
On Sept. 11, the state requested that the court order requiring that the state immediately adjust the base level funding be put on hold until its appeal of that ruling makes it through the court system, adding another roadblock to this vital funding for classrooms. Coalition members are also rebuking the state for ignoring numerous settlement offers.
“Education is a top priority for Arizonans, but we understand that the state provides funding for many important programs and services,” said Chuck Essigs, director of governmental relations for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials. “It’s unfortunate that our efforts to be reasonable and to only request adequate funding as approved by the voters for Arizona public school students have fallen on deaf ears.”
Since the Sept. 26, 2013, Arizona Supreme Court decision, the coalition has made numerous overtures to begin settlement discussions. A formal offer made by the coalition in February 2014 would have provided immediate financial relief to schools and enabled the state to settle the case for less than 25 cents on the dollar of what is owed. The offer was ignored and may no longer be extended as litigation moves forward.
“The money owed to Arizona’s children is long overdue,” says AEA President Andrew F. Morrill. “It is time for the Legislature to meet its responsibility to our students so we can move our state forward. If our state’s leaders had done the right thing from the beginning, they wouldn’t be in the predicament they’re in now. The longer they put this off, the more our students suffer.”