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Shirley wants ‘unbiased’ study

June 23, 2006 by  
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By Kathy Helms
Diné Bureau; 06.23.06

WINDOW ROCK — Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr., in testimony this
week before the U.S. House Resources Committee, requested an independent,
“unbiased” non-federal consultant conduct a one-year study to examine the
impacts of relocation on the Navajo and Hopi people.

Shirley said the study would examine the effects of relocation, needs,
community impact, range management and livestock reduction, and determine
eligibility benefits for affected Navajo and Hopi families.

The proposed study asks that the two tribes to be allowed to contract with
the relocation office for mitigation activities. Once mitigation between
the two tribes is complete, the relocation program would end, as well as
federal government involvement, according to the Navajo Nation Washington
Office.

President Shirley testified before a packed House, denouncing the proposed
Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Amendments of 2005, which is favored by the
Hopi Tribe. Shirley said the legislation sponsored by U.S. Sen. John
McCain, R-Ariz., would bring an abrupt end to federal relocation efforts
and would shut down the Office of Navajo Hopi Indian Relocation.

“I urge this committee to reject Senate Bill 1003 and its unintentional
disregard for the lives of the Navajo relocatees,” Shirley said. He asked
the committee to adopt a rational and reasonable policy that closes the
program after a thorough study is done.

The Navajo Hopi Land Settlement Amendments of 2005 passed by the Senate
calls for a shutdown of the relocation office on Sept. 30, 2008. Remaining
responsibilities would be transferred to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Forced removal
“The Navajo Nation does not want the relocation program to go on
indefinitely,” Shirley said. “In fact, we would like nothing more than to
be able to stand on our own as a sovereign nation without the intrusion of
the federal government … to stand side-by-side with you rather than have
policy dictated to us.”

President Shirley said the act does not settle the outstanding claims and
appeals of individuals whose benefits have been denied. “The act merely
cuts off the funding that would be necessary to help people receive job
training, and rebuild shattered communities,” he said.

“The Navajo Nation is not here to lay blame and has no interest in
refighting the long history of the land dispute between the Navajo Nation
and the Hopi Tribe,” President Shirley said.

Hopi Tribal Chairman Ivan Sidney made a similar observation; however, he
said, the Hopi Tribe is in favor of the Senate bill.

Shirley also told the House committee that the Navajo Nation has no
interest in securing rights and benefits for its people to the exclusion
of the Hopi Tribe.

“While it is true that many more Navajos and Navajo communities were
impacted by the relocation than Hopis, the truth is there were many people
from both sides who were forcibly moved. We have both suffered and both
experienced impacts that the original act intended to mitigate.

“To a great extent, that mitigation has not happened for either of our
people,” Shirley said, adding that any benefits for which the Navajo
Nation is eligible “should be in proportion to the level of harm the
Navajo people have experienced.”

Unwanted policy
The President said he concurs with others who say the relocation program
has gone on too long and cost too much. “I agree, but the Navajo Nation
never wanted the program to begin at all. Should the Navajo be punished
because the federal government adopted a policy without understanding the
issues involved?

“Is it the Navajo’s fault that there were more than 10 times the number of
Navajos to relocate than the government expected? Is it the fault of the
Navajo relocatees that the promise of a new house and a new life has cost
so much?

“I say that it is not. Yet, S. 1003 ignores the needs of thousands of
Navajos who have had their lives disrupted,” Shirley said, urging the
committee to reject McCain’s bill.

He also asked the committee to “take the time to understand what
relocation has wrought and instead of allowing the federal government to
commit another grave error, to create a humane, planned resolution to the
plight of these Americans.”

“Is a study really unreasonable after years of misery? A study that would
simply evaluate what has happened, what needs to occur to make the people
as whole as is reasonably possible, how to implement a mitigation plan,
and how to shut down the program so that the Navajo, the Hopi, and the
federal government can put this painful period behind us,” the president
said.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 passed by Congress provided for a one-year
study of Indian energy rights-of-way, which is due to Congress Aug. 7. The
study looks at historical figures paid to Indian nations for energy
rights-of-way and ultimately could challenge tribal sovereignty by giving
the Department of Interior final say on how much the tribes can charge for
rights-of-way.

The study was included after El Paso Natural Gas and the Navajo Nation
reached an impasse on renewal of a lease agreement for El Paso’s 900-mile
energy corridor within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation.

Shirley said a one-year relocation study “would let the facts on the
ground dictate the policy that will guide the federal government, the
Navajo Nation, and the Hopi Tribe, instead of the federal government
dictating policy.”

“The study will also allow us to determine how much more money the program
needs, and how long it will take to address the outstanding issues. It is
impossible to answer these questions without data,” he said.

The greatest cost of the relocation program, housing, is nearly complete;
so, any further activities would cost substantially less, the President
said.

http://www.gallupindependent.com/2006/jun/062306unbstdy.html

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