8/27/2011 Gallup Independent: NN seeks congressional approval to issue mineral leases

8/27/2011 Gallup Independent: Navajo Nation seeks congressional approval to issue mineral leases: By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau: WINDOW ROCK – All it took was Delegate Leonard Tsosie playing the “sovereignty” card to trump a pair of objections by Attorney General Harrison Tsosie and Minerals Department Director Akhtar Zaman, and win Navajo Nation Council support of a bill that would give Navajo the power to authorize mineral leases without federal approval. The resolution sponsored by Delegate Roscoe Smith and promoted by Navajo Nation Oil and Gas would require congressional action to become law.

“When this was first entertained at the Resources and Development Committee, the Department of Justice had some issues,” Smith said, so the committee deferred the matter to DOJ. “In the memorandum back to the Resources Committee, they found that it was legally sufficient.” Former Navajo Nation Attorney General Louis Denetsosie, now Navajo Nation Oil and Gas vice president and general counsel, went before Council Aug. 19 to present the resolution. “I’m here on behalf of the board of directors who initiated the legislation before you. They thought it would be an opportune piece of legislation.”

The resolution would recommend amendments to 25 U.S.C. Section 415(e). Denetsosie said Congress wants to make some reform legislation in the energy area for Indian Country. “They have been coming to Indian tribes asking them to submit concepts for legal reform. … Navajo Nation Oil and Gas would like to be part of that discussion and their proposal is before you.”

The proposed amendment to the business site leasing statute is intended to be included as part of another proposed federal act entitled Native American Energy Development Regulatory Reform Act of 2011. The Council of Large Land Base Tribes excluded a similar provision to allow subsurface mineral leasing without Secretary of the Interior approval because other tribal leaders do not wish to absolve the United States of its trust responsibility.

Denetsosie said he and Zaman have worked together since 1982 on mineral matters on behalf of the Navajo Nation, always on the same side, but “Friends can have a difference of opinion and his opinion is that we shouldn’t do this at this time, and I strongly believe we should do it.”

Tsosie said the current request has two substantial changes to it. “I see it as my duty to make sure that you are fully apprised of the consequences that may result from the action you take – and there will be consequences.”

One thing the legislation would do is request the United States government extend the leasing provisions from its current 25 year limitation to 99 years.

“We just passed the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples where we asked the nations of this world to recognize that Indian tribes should have title or ownership to their lands. Let’s say that happens 10 to 20 years from now, and it may be the case at that time that we are operating under Navajo laws instead of federal laws for leasing of our lands,” Tsosie said. “Those leases that were issued for 99 years would still be in effect and there’s not much we could do to absolve those leases if we wanted them to be otherwise,” because once given, there are constitutional protections.

The second issue is that the NNOG resolution is not limited to oil and gas mineral leasing, which is the only function of the company, but rather, the amendment language covers all minerals such as coal, copper, sand and gravel, and even uranium should the Nation ever lift its moratorium on uranium exploration and development. Tsosie and Zaman said Council needed to at least debate whether it was advisable to take that action.

In an Aug. 19 memorandum, Tsosie and Zaman stated that while on the surface the proposed legislation would seem to be in the interest of the Nation, the fact is that it may have serious underlying negative consequences.

If enacted by Congress, “the legislation could completely absolve the United States from all of its trust obligations to the Nation with regard to minerals leases approved by the Nation pursuant to this amendment,” including mineral lease revenue and royalty accountability, surface management and environmental oversight, the memo states.

It also would transfer all liability and costs associated with mining leases. The Nation could be a defendant in lawsuits from non-governmental organizations, mining industry and affected stakeholders. It also would need to provide millions of dollars in annual general fund revenues to create and enhance oversight and regulatory programs to perform functions the Nation now receives federal funding to perform.

Tsosie and Zaman recommended the resolution be given serious consideration before taking hasty action, however, Smith and Denetsosie said the window of opportunity would close Sept. 1. “This law will allow the Navajo Nation to create all kinds of opportunities and values for themselves. That is why I strongly believe that this should go forth,” Denetsosie said.

Delegate Leonard Tsosie reminded Council, “This is not final law, what we’re doing here. This is a request to Congress. … In talking to what the AG is saying that this will go from 25 to 99 years, you can control that by what’s in the lease. You could make the lease 25 years, 26, years, 30 years, 50 years, 99 years. It’s an option that the Navajo Nation will have.

“And then he’s kind of trying to spook this Council by saying, ‘What if things change on us?’ … I look at the memo from Aug. 19, and there’s no harm identified in there that will come to Navajo Nation. What they’re saying is if, if, if. … On the other hand, if the Navajo Nation is allowed to do this, we will control our own destiny, and I thought that that’s what we wanted all along. I thought that was what’s called our sovereignty – self-determination.”

Delegate LoRenzo Bates said he supported the intent of the resolution, but given the issues, “I can’t sit here and say I know enough about it to be comfortable with voting in favor.” He requested they refer it back to committee. But after Smith and Denetsosie mentioned the Sept. 1 deadline, the motion failed 6-10.

“We as an Indian nation would have sovereignty over our land through leases – leases we could administer up to 99 years,” Dwight Witherspoon said. The length of time could be determined on a case by case basis. “If we don’t have control of our land, we don’t have the opportunity to leverage it for loans, for development, and it really keeps us at a dependent status of the United States government. We need to reverse that trend,” he said.

The resolution passed 15-1 with Bates casting the dissenting vote.

10 Thoughts on “8/27/2011 Gallup Independent: NN seeks congressional approval to issue mineral leases

  1. forgottenpeople on August 30, 2011 at 1:41 pm said:

    Ed Becenti: Here you go fellow DINE’ Navajo folks and friends!! See if you can figure out what the attached story means for our future generations to come. Notice the culprits by name who are trying to once again WHEEL AN DEAL without the input from all 110 chapter constituents. DO NOT…i repeat…DO NOT let your Council Delegate do anymore blind-folded decision making without your input. Let’s just simply put dis to a PUBLIC REFERENDUM since it will involve our future generations to come.

    • forgottenpeople on October 15, 2011 at 3:28 pm said:

      Ed Becenti: DO NOT…i repeat…DO NOT let your Council Delegate do anymore blind-folded decision making without your input. Let’s just simply put dis to a PUBLIC REFERENDUM since it will involve our future generations to come

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