Forgotten People files claim on land for casino

By Carolyn Calvin
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Oct. 29, 2010

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Forgotten People, an association of survivors of the Navajo-Hopi Land dispute, on Oct. 22 filed a notice of claim on the site of the planned Twin Arrows casino east of Flagstaff.

James Zion, attorney for the Forgotten People, said a "lis pendens," filed with the Coconino County Clerk and Recorder, was filed to let all parties interested in the land know that money meant for the rehabilitation of the Bennett Freeze area is being spent to buy land for the casino.

He said a notice of intent to sue under the Sovereign Immunity Act also was submitted to the Navajo Nation president and attorney general.

"We want a declaration that there will be a financial return on the casino and that the funds will go to people in the Bennett Freeze area and not the Las Vegas travel fund," Zion said.

"The survivors need housing and infrastructure," he said.

Don Yellowman, president of the Forgotten People, and Program Director Marsha Monestersky asked for time to present their concerns to the Council before it deliberated on a bill to purchase the Twin Arrows parcel, but were not granted permission by the speaker's office.

"We want the Council to be fully aware of their actions and be totally aware of the efforts of Forgotten People," Yellowman said.

Alastair Bitsoi, public information officer for the legislative branch, said the group did not follow the Council's procedure to get on the agenda of Monday's special session.

The Council turned down the land purchase because of a technical problem with the legislation, voting 15 in favor and 60 against, and also defeated a proposal to table the purchase bill until the next special session, Nov. 4.

Further work on the bill is difficult until the Council hires a new lawyer to advise it. Chief Legislative Counsel Frank Seanez was disbarred Oct. 22 by the Navajo Nation Supreme Court for unrelated reasons.

The technical difficulties of concern to the delegates do not involve the source of money to buy the land.

Yellowman said the $7.4 million needed to purchase the Twin Arrows parcel would come from the Navajo Rehabilitation Trust Fund, money that is solely to benefit residents of the former Bennett Freeze and the Hopi partitioned land.

"People are living in shacks and there is no way to get clean water to drink," Yellowman said. "We oppose any land purchases until we find out where the Navajo Rehabilitation Trust Fund money is being spent."

The group is in the process of filing a Freedom of Information Act request to document the use of federal rehabilitation funds to purchase land for the casino and is asking for an investigation by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

Although they were not allowed to address the Council, Forgotten People representatives succeeded in getting copies of their notice of intent to sue and a press release placed in the delegates' mailboxes and in e-mailing a copy to each delegate.

Bitsoi said the Forgotten People could time to make a report before the Council at its Nov. 4 special session, but must get assistance from a delegate in order to get a spot on the agenda.

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