“I don’t agree with that,” Navajo Hopi Land Commission Office Deputy Director Thomas Benally said. His records indicate there should be a total of $2.9 million in the trust fund, he said.
Land Commission Office Director Raymond Maxx said the office has not regularly provided financial information to the Navajo Hopi Land Commission. The Commission is composed of Tribal Council delegates who are charged with overseeing the Land Commission Office and with deciding how federal funds will be spent.
In addition, Maxx said some of the trust fund money was co-mingled with general fund accounts. The Land Commission Office is trying to recoup the money, he said.
“We are not getting consistent numbers from the controller’s office,” Maxx said. “This office will start keeping track of our own numbers rather than relying on other offices.
This confusion has been going on for a long time.”
Navajo Controller Mark Grant did not return a call seeking comment. Maxx, who began the director job in late January, said he has asked the Navajo Office of the Auditor General to audit the Land Commission Office.
“We want to be more transparent,” Maxx said. He said the office is working to reconcile two decades of accounting records in response to the lawsuit, which was filed last August.
Marsha Monestersky, program director for Forgotten People, said an accounting lawsuit should not be necessary to find out how money has been spent and how much money remains in the trust fund.
“There is a continuing history of mismanagement and a lack of accountability to the people,” she said of the Navajo Hopi Land Commission Office. “In the outside world, if any agency did that, there would be heads that roll. The standard shouldn’t be less (for Navajo government), especially when the rehabilitation trust fund is using federal money.”
Benally said he believes there is about $650,000 in the trust fund account that is earmarked for land purchases and another $1.3 to $1.5 million is in an interest-bearing account for future projects. He said he believes another $800,000 remains in an account to repair homes in the Hopi Partitioned Lands in Arizona. The money was never spent because the Commission did not go through the proper process for approving the money in 2005, he said.
The 2010 report prepared for the Tribal Council’s Government Services Committee states that $16 million from the fund was allocated between 1990 and 2009. Most of the money was spent on home repairs and community construction projects in the western part of the reservation.
Benally said another $6.3 million was used to buy property with economic development potential, including a $3.7 million loan to the Navajo Gaming Enterprise to buy property on Interstate Highway 40 east of Flagstaff, Ariz., for a casino.
Forgotten People objects to trust-fund money being used for the planned Twin Arrows Casino, even though some families affected by the land dispute will benefit from casino lease and loan payments during the next 75 years. Opponents say the trust fund money should be used to improve desperate living conditions now.
Congress created the trust fund in 1988 to aid families impacted by the land dispute.
In addition to helping those Navajo families who were forced to move from Hopi land in Arizona, the trust fund also was supposed to help those living in nearby communities where construction restrictions were imposed because of lawsuits that dragged on for 40 years.
Thousands of people living in the western part of the reservation still do not have electricity or indoor plumbing as a result of the land dispute, and many water sources are contaminated with uranium.
In January, a Navajo tribal judge gave the Land Commission Office and the Forgotten People until April 8 to resolve the matter through mediation. Jim Zion, attorney for Forgotten People, said he has agreed to a one-month extension to give the Navajo Hopi Land Commission Office more time to reconcile its accounting.
How much money was actually distributed, and to whom, is still unclear, Benally said. “The record keeping wasn’t the greatest back then,” he said.
Asked whether the figures presented in the 2010 report were accurate, Benally said the report was “accurate with what we had at the time.”
Monestersky, whose organization advocates for people affected by the land dispute, said she was unaware of the Land Commission report until the Gallup Independent forwarded the document to her organization in March. The Independent requested the report from the federal Office of Navajo and Hopi Indian Relocation in Flagstaff. That office oversees the relocation of families forced to move from Hopi and Navajo land.
According to the report, nearly $1 million from the trust fund was spent on planning consultants, lobbyists and administrative office space, furniture and equipment.
About $6 million, or 37 percent of total expenditures, went to communities in Navajo Partitioned Land. That is the part of the disputed area that was partitioned for Navajos after Congress passed the 1974 settlement act.
Another $3.2 million, or 20 percent, went to communities in Hopi Partitioned Land, where some Navajos have remained either illegally or through accommodation agreements with the Hopi tribe. Nearly all of that money was earmarked between 1998 and 2009 to build 48 homes that were later deemed substandard.
A Navajo auditor general report blamed the Navajo Housing Services Department for shoddy workmanship and the Navajo Hopi Land Commission for failing to correct deficiencies. Even though the auditor general sanctioned the Land Commission Office in 2005 for its failure to finish constructing homes in the HPL, 14 homes still are incomplete. Monestersky said she knows of at least seven families who were promised homes that were never built.
About $1 million was spent in new communities near Sanders, Ariz., which were established for refugees forced to leave Hopi land. Though the federal government built homes for people who relocated to the new lands, residents say promised services were never delivered.
According to the report, nearly $5 million went to communities in the former Bennett Freeze area, about 1.5 million acres spanning from Tuba City to northeast of Flagstaff. Development in that area was stymied by litigation with the Hopis until 2006 when a compact was officially adopted. The money funded home repairs and community buildings such as senior centers.
“They funded things like Head Start, which is a federally funded program, and has nothing to do with rehabilitation,” Monestersky said. “I don’t see how a Head Start building or a senior center qualifies for rehabilitation money when you have people freezing to death (because of inadequate housing.)”
She said many of the expenditures that were categorized as being in the Bennett Freeze actually occurred in other areas. She said she was frustrated by the lack of specific information in the report, especially concerning who received assistance. She contends that some who have received money did not need it, or did not even live in the affected area.
“There is not a drop of water for people to drink in the HPL. People in the Bennett Freeze are drinking uranium-contaminated water,” Monestersky said. “The wisest investment they could make is to hire development planners who can plan for infrastructure and prioritize needs.”
The trust fund money was never allocated according to need, Monestersky said. “They don’t have any prioritization of needs, for handicapped, for disabled, for people with major health conditions, elderly, people who are homeless,” she said. “That means the friends and relatives and people who yell the loudest get the money, and then the money is gone.”
Navajo Hopi Land Commission has spent more than $6 million to buy land with economic-development potential
• Congress appropriated $16.2 million for the Navajo Rehabilitation Trust Fund to improve the “economic, educational and social condition” of Navajo families and communities affected by the Navajo-Hopi land dispute. Amendments to the 1974 Navajo Hopi Settlement Act allowed the Navajo Nation to buy up to 150,000 acres of private land within 18 miles of the reservation.
• The Land Commission loaned $3.7 million to the Navajo Gaming Enterprise to buy land on I-40 near Flagstaff, Ariz., for a casino.
• The trust fund also was used to buy 36 acres on Paseo del Vulcan, a thoroughfare between Albuquerque and the Canoncito Navajo Indian Reservation for $1.8 million.
• The tribe also 13 acres in Sanders near I-40 and 1,599 acres north of Winslow., at Rincon Ranch, which might become a gravel pit, said Thomas Benally, deputy director of the Navajo Hopi Land Commission Office
• Lease and loan payments from the Twin Arrows Casino will benefit families who lived on Hopi land in 1974, whether they have moved or not, said Land Commission Office Director Raymond Maxx.
• Congress established the trust fund with the intention that the Navajo Nation would repay it from coal revenues generated in New Mexico.