Rehab fund spending report released

By Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Sept. 26, 2011

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The Navajo Nation's Department of Justice has finally produced a draft summary of the accounting record for the Navajo Rehabilitation Trust Fund.

Nine months after being ordered to do so, DOJ submitted the document during a Sept. 21 hearing for the lawsuit filed by the Forgotten People and 12 other individuals who are suing the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission to learn how money has been spent from the fund, which was established by Congress to benefit residents of the former Bennett Freeze and Hopi Partitioned Land.

As their name suggests, the Forgotten People contend that the assistance their region was promised in the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute settlement has failed to materialize, and they suspect the money may have been misspent.

Henry Howe, a DOJ attorney representing the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission, submitted an eight-page report that shows trust fund expenditures from 1990 to 2009 that went toward projects on the former Bennett Freeze area, New Lands, Navajo Partitioned Land and Hopi Partitioned Land.

The report also shows amounts Congress appropriated for land purchases and federal appropriation amounts from 1990 to 1995.



"This information provided to plaintiffs demonstrates good faith on behalf of the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission Office," Howe said, speaking before a courtroom packed with spectators.

When plaintiffs filed their civil complaint in 2010, they asked for a full account of all income, expenses, profits, losses, assets and other financial matters for which the tribe, the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission and the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission Office have responsibility.

Window Rock District Court Judge T.J. Holgate asked Howe why it took months to produce the report after the court issued an order in January.

Howe explained that it took time to locate accounting documents and it was especially difficult for the office to locate the first five years of records.

Sitting with Howe were Navajo-Hopi Land Commission Chair Lorenzo Curley (Houck/Klagetoh/Nahata Dziil/Tsé si'án'/Wide Ruins) and Navajo-Hopi Land Commission Office Director Raymond Maxx and Deputy Director Thomas Benally.

James Zion, attorney for the Forgotten People, asked Holgate for time to examine the record since it was handed to him shortly before the hearing started.

Holgate granted Zion 30 days to review the document and to submit any written responses or questions.

The judge also ordered both parties to continue discussing the issue before the next hearing date in January.

In an impromptu meeting at Veterans Memorial Park after the hearing, Zion told the group that this was just a start.

"Today we had a victory for the Forgotten People," Zion said to the group of about 30 people.

This document is a start in addressing the issue of when the money was received, how much was received and how it was spent, he said.

Forgotten People member Grace Smith Yellowhammer said it took a long time to obtain this financial record but the group will continue fighting until the issue is completely resolved.

"I want to see these elders win," she said.

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