Tag Archives: Trust Fund

10/17/2011 AZ Daily Sun: Native American leader Elouise Cobell dies at 65

FILE - In a Dec. 8, 2009 file photo Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe from Montana who was the lead plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit regarding the U.S. government's trust management and accounting of over three hundred thousand individual American Indian trust accounts, left, is greeted by Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar following an announcement on the settlement of Cobell lawsuit at the Interior Department in Washington, A spokesman for Cobell says the Blackfeet woman who led a 15-year fight to force the U.S. government to account for more than a century of mismanaged Indian land royalties has died. She was 65. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta/File)

10/17/2011 AZ Daily Sun: Native American leader Elouise Cobell dies at 65 Elouise Cobell, the Blackfeet woman who led a 15-year legal fight to force the U.S. government to account for more than a century of mismanaged Indian land royalties, died Sunday. She was 65. Cobell died at a Great Falls hospital of complications from cancer, spokesman Bill McAllister said.

Cobell was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed in 1996 claiming the Interior Department had misspent, lost or stolen billions of dollars meant for Native American land trust account holders dating back to the 1880s.

After years of legal wrangling, the two sides in 2009 agreed to settle for $3.4 billion, the largest government class-action settlement in U.S. history. The beneficiaries are estimated to be about 500,000 people.

Asked what she wanted her legacy to be, Cobell said in a 2010 interview with The Associated Press that she hoped she would inspire a new generation of Native Americans to fight for the rights of others and lift their community out of poverty.

“Maybe one of these days, they won’t even think about me. They’ll just keep going and say, `This is because I did it,'” Cobell said. “I never started this case with any intentions of being a hero. I just wanted this case to give justice to people that didn’t have it.”

President Barack Obama released a statement that said Cobell’s work provided a measure of justice to hundreds of thousands of Native Americans, will give more people access to higher education and will give tribes more control over their own lands.

“Elouise helped to strengthen the government to government relationship with Indian Country, and our thoughts and prayers are with her and her family and all those who mourn her passing,” the statement read.

Cobell said she had heard stories since she was a child of how the government had shortchanged Native Americans with accounts for royalties from their land that was leased for resource development or farming.

She became outraged when she actually started digging into how much money the government had squandered that belonged people who were living in dire poverty on the Blackfeet reservation in northwestern Montana, she said.

She realized the amount mismanaged since the 1880s could be hundreds of billions of dollars. She said she tried for years working with two U.S. government administrations to resolve the dispute in the early 1990s, then decided to sue with four other Native Americans as plaintiffs when no progress was made.

The government dug in. Over the next 14 years, there were more than 3,600 court filings, 220 days of trial, 80 published court decisions and 10 appeals until the 2009 breakthrough.

Under the settlement, $1.4 billion would go to individual Indian account holders. Some $2 billion would be used by the government to buy up fractionated Indian lands from individual owners willing to sell, and then turn those lands over to tribes. Another $60 million would be used for a scholarship fund for young Indians.

Cobell spent the next year shuttling back and forth between her home in Browning to Washington, D.C., to lobby individual congressmen to approve the deal. She also logged thousands of miles traveling across Indian country to explain the deal to the potential beneficiaries.

She found unexpected resistance among some Native Americans. They questioned why it was so little, how much would be going to her and they attorneys or why it didn’t include a more complete accounting of what happened to the money.

Congress approved the deal and Obama signed it in December of 2010, a year after it was first proposed. A federal judge approved the settlement in June, though there are still appeals of the settlement pending.

Cobell discovered she had cancer just a few weeks before the judge’s approval in June. She traveled to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for surgery.

Cobell was born with the Indian name Little Bird Woman, a great granddaughter of the famous leader Mountain Chief. She grew up with seven brothers and sisters on the Blackfeet reservation.

She graduated from Great Falls Business College and received honorary degrees from Montana State University, Rollins College and, earlier this year, Dartmouth College.

She was the Blackfeet nation’s treasurer for 13 years, and in 1987 helped found the first U.S. bank to be owned by a tribe, the Blackfeet National Bank, which is now the Native American Bank.

Cobell was the executive director of the nonprofit Native American Community Development Corp., which promotes sustainable economic development in Indian Country.

She won a $300,000 “genius grant” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 1997 and used most of the money to help fund the lawsuit.

Cobell lived on a ranch 30 miles south of Browning with her husband Alvin. Her only son, Turk, lives in Las Vegas with his wife Bobbie and their children Olivia and Gabriella.

She has a brother and two sisters who live in Browning and a third sister who lives in Seattle.

9/28/2011 Navajo Times: Mold is suspect in building closure

9/28/2011 Navajo Times: Mold is suspect in building closure By Noel Lyn Smith: Potentially harmful mold inside the tribe’s Administration Building No. 1 has sent approximately 200 tribal employees packing. The building, which houses the Division of Finance, was ordered closed “indefinitely” on Sept. 9 by the Navajo Nation Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which enforces federal and tribal workplace safety laws.

Last Friday about 30 employees stood outside Admin No. 1 with empty boxes, waiting for Incident Management Team members to retrieve documents from the building.

Each department was asked to provide a priority list of essential documents needing retrieval.

A female employee who declined to identify herself said she smelled a “glue like” substance days before the closure. Other employees declined to comment and referred questions to the Incident Management Team.

Before entering the building, retrieval team members dressed in white protective suits and sterile gloves.

A clean room was set up inside and the requested items were brought into that room for decontamination before being removed from the building.

Incident Management Team members returned to the site Monday to continue the remediation process.

NOSHA Director Patrick Sandoval said the investigation and subsequent closure of the building was prompted by complaints from employees.

“It’s the employee’s right to have a safe working environment but it’s the employer’s responsibility to provide that environment,” Sandoval said.

This is the second time the building was closed due to mold in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, where mold spores can be sprayed into the air and inhaled by occupants. The first closure was Sept. 1-5.

As crucial documents were being retrieved last week, Dave Nez with the tribe’s Public Health Emergency Preparedness Office explained that an independent Arizona state-certified microbiologist collected samples to analyze and the results will be released to the Incident Management Team.

Nez said the building had water stains on interior walls and some inside paneling showed signs of bacteria or fungus growth. The mold, which can cause severe respiratory problems, thrives in dark, damp conditions.

Based on assessment reports, a large contributor to the problem is the declining condition of the roof and seepage of moisture into the building, according to an Incident Management Team press release.

The exact age of the building is unknown by most officials estimate it is about 30 years old. It has a history of problems, including a waterline break in 2007 that caused significant water damage.

Executive Office Communications Director Laphillda Tso said Tuesday that the test results had not been released. After they are received the Incident Management Team will determine how to remediate the building, she said, adding that an update on the situation was expected Wednesday.

Potential hazard

Mold colonies can start to grow on a damp surface within 24 to 48 hours and reproduce by releasing tiny spores that float through the air until landing in other locations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mold will continue to grow until steps are taken to eliminate the source of moisture and kill the existing colony.

Only certain molds are toxigenic, which means they can produce toxins but are not toxic by themselves.

It is the mold’s ability to destroy organic material that makes it a health problem for people.

Typical symptoms reported from mold exposure include respiratory problems, nasal and sinus congestion or coughing, irritation to the eyes, nose, throat or skin, headaches and body pains.

Individual with existing respiratory conditions, infants, children, pregnant women, and the elderly are at higher risks for adverse health effects, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

There is no way to eliminate mold but it can be kept to a minimum by preventing moisture from collecting inside. Water seepage, whether from an old roof, leaking pipe, or poor drainage, should never be ignored. Fix leaks immediately and dry out the area that got wet.

No routine inspections

“The Navajo Nation is obligated and liable for upkeep and maintenance services to ensure a safe and healthy work environment for its employees,” according to information posted on the Division of General Services Web site.

However, the tribe does not conduct routine inspections on tribal buildings, said Facilities Management Department Manager Marcus Tulley. Tulley’s department provides repairs and maintenance services to 625 tribal-owned facilities across the Navajo Nation.

Tulley said his department does maintenance service on buildings but only when an employee reports a problem or if an order is issued by NOSHA, the Office of Environmental Health, or the Safety and Loss Control Program.

Information about the closure of Administration Building No. 1 is posted at the building’s entrances in addition to copies of the order of closure.

Programs relocated

The programs housed there have been relocated as follows:

* Most of the controller’s office is now operating out of the Dine Education Center auditorium.
* The Credit Services Department is located at the Ethics and Rules conference room.
* Both the Cashier’s Department and some Accounts Payable staff have relocated to Property Management Department in Fort Defiance.
* Most of the Office of Management and Budget is housed in the Department of Information Technology, but OMB’s Contracts and Grants section is located at the Department of Behavioral Health Services conference room in Administration Building No. 2.
* Administration staff for the Division of General Services is in the Department of Information Technology.
* The Insurances Services Department, and Employee Benefits and Workers Compensation programs are located at the Safety Loss Control Program office inside the Navajo Nation Shopping Center.
* Risk Management is located at the Navajo Nation Museum.
* The Design and Engineering Services Program is located at the Division of Community Development conference room in Administration Building No. 2 but the project management staff is located at the Rural Addressing Office at Navajo Nation Shopping Center.
* The Department of Personnel Management is located at the Training Center.

Most departments have retained the same telephone number and people may call them, or the president’s office, for location information, Tso said. The president’s office also instructed KTNN to announce the relocations.

“We asked them to send out information daily because it’s public information and to relieve the stress on the public that comes out to these departments,” she said.

The building may be closed, but shuttering the Division of Finance was never an option, said Herman Shorty, director of the Office of Environmental Health.

“That’s the heartbeat of the Navajo Nation,” he said. “Everything that is key to the Navajo Nation is associated with that building, so you can’t close down operations.”

Related

Balaran gets court order to protect documents

Rehab fund spending report released: Report details how money intended for victims of the Bennett Freeze, in the Navajo-Hopi land dispute, was spent.

New special prosecutor to replace Balaran: Announcement expected within 10 days.

9/23/2011 Gallup Independent: Forgotten People gets first list of expenditures in accounting suit

Show me the money Glenna Begay (left), Leta O’Daniel and Lena Nez traveled to Window Rock Wednesday for a district court hearing on Navajo Rehabilitation Trust Fund monies. 9/23/2011 Gallup Independent: Forgotten People gets first list of expenditures in accounting suit By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau: WINDOW ROCK – The grassroots group Forgotten People took the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission to court Wednesday and compelled the disclosure of how federal trust fund monies were spent.

In response to an accounting lawsuit filed in August 2010 by their attorney, James W. Zion of Albuquerque, Navajo Nation Assistant Attorney General Henry Howe turned over eight pages of information pertaining to how the Land Commission spent Navajo Rehabilitation Trust Fund monies designed to help Navajos displaced by the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute.

The trust fund was established by Congress in 1974 for improvement of the economic, educational and social condition of families and Navajo communities affected by the division of the former Navajo-Hopi Joint Use Area.

Approximately 30 members of the Forgotten People, most of them elderly, traveled three hours or more from Western Navajo Agency to Window Rock District Court for the hearing before Judge T.J. Holgate.

Howe said the case involved hundreds of projects between 1990 and 2009, and that record-keeping was not very good in the early years of 1990-95. A draft summary showed expenditures amounted to $16.8 million and included $14,500 to a Navajo Nation Council delegate whose home had burned.

“They bought him a new house, and I’m going to ask why did that Council delegate get that house,” Zion said. “Why did he get a house when people on waiting lists didn’t get houses?” Howe asked the judge about the confidentiality of that information, however, Holgate said that as long as they were within the bounds of the law, he didn’t mind the discussion.

The judge also was firm about setting some time parameters for the attorneys due to a previous lack of dialog on the part of the Navajo Nation. Howe said the parties had not met because he had just been given the information. “We have given a draft summary of receipts for Mr. Zion to share with his clients and we believe this demonstrates more than a good-faith effort on the part of the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission,” he said.

Howe also offered to have all documents together by November, and to make a presentation between December and April to all chapters impacted by the trust fund.

Holgate gave the attorneys from October to December to exchange information and said he will set another hearing for January. The attorneys are to present a joint report to the judge 10 days prior to the hearing outlining what they have done.

The Navajo-Hopi Land Commission was represented at the hearing by Raymond Maxx, executive director; Lorenzo Curley, chairman; and Thomas Benally.

“The people that were here, they’re the very reason why we’re here ourselves,” Maxx said. “We serve them and they need to be more comfortable on how we handle and do things.” It takes a lot of personnel time to account for numbers, he said, and having Administration Building 1, which houses the financial section, closed due to black mold, has not helped.

“We rely on the Division of Finance for some of our numbers. When we ask for information, it takes a long time and sometimes they’re not the same, depending on who you talk to; so I hope the Nation really takes a look at funding our Finance Department adequately to where we’re accountable.”

Curley said that when he became a commission member in 2005, they were already buying property for the purpose of commerce. Back in the early 1980s, the Navajo Nation was looking at Paragon Ranch as a source of coal, and a decision was made to go after that property using Relocation funds to acquire it. Subsequently, the Nation abandoned that plan.

“Now we have thousands of acres over there, we can’t really use it for anything. My view is we’ve got to salvage this situation in some way. One of the ways that we’re looking at is to use the property for solar. There has been some talk about coal gasification and some investors have been talking with the officials about that, but we haven’t seen anything develop from that yet,” he said.

At a meeting with the Forgotten People at Veterans Park following the hearing, Zion elaborated on the court’s action.

“When Congress told the Navajo Tribe that it could take out so much land in New Mexico and so much land in Arizona, there’s a thing in there that says that any time the Navajo Nation gets that land, it is to be used for the benefit of Navajos who have not yet been relocated. What that means is Rena Babbitt Lane (who lives on HPL) owns the Twin Arrows Casino!” Zion said.

Regarding Paragon Ranch near Farmington, he said some of the relocatees went to look at the land and talked about getting homes there, but “what really happened was the Navajo Nation picked that land because of the coal, and they were going to make a whole bunch of money selling coal to the power plant.”

Congress, when it authorized $10 million a year for six years to help the Navajos that were affected by the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute, also stipulated that the Navajo Nation had to repay that money to the United States, Zion said.

“The Congress of the United States created these two trusts. The Secretary of the Interior is responsible to oversee the trust. Where is the oversight? You’ve got another situation exactly like the Cobell case, and I’m wondering if the United States is not looking over the Navajo Nation’s shoulder to make sure you folks are treated right in all this,” he said.

Vice President Rex Lee Jim joined the Forgotten People as they sat under the trees near the statue of the Navajo Code Talker and was immediately bombarded with questions and concerns. He extended an invitation to the people to be open and honest, and to meet with him so they can work together on issues such as health, housing and water.

Edith Holmes, a U.S. military veteran from Tuba City, told Jim, “We’ve made the sacrifices. The people need to have their needs addressed. Now we hear that a casino is being built and they’re going to get the necessary amenities – infrastructure like running water and things like that – and we don’t get nothing.” When her home burned she came to Window Rock for assistance, she said. “We just get the run-around.”

Leta O’Daniel, who lives on Hopi Partitioned Land at Big Mountain, asked for Jim’s help. “All the roads to the windmills where the waters are, are all washed out,” she said. “We can’t go get water, we can’t get things we need to keep our lives moving forward, so I’m here to plead on behalf of my people. There’s many needs that need to be addressed on HPL.”

Norris Nez, a medicine man whose family once had a farm plot in Sand Springs before they were fenced off from the water sources by Hopi, said there are many other issues besides the land dispute that are affecting the people. “Water is being given away … Why aren’t you protecting those resources that are vital for the life of the people?

“The people hear a recurring theme – ‘No money,’” he said. “Because of that and problems with leadership, it feels like the lights are dimming and going out on us on the west end.”

Grace Smith Yellowhammer of Teesto said many of the youth have been made homeless by Relocation, and have turned to drugs and alcohol while living in border towns. She pleaded with Jim to make a difference. “Please, take care of our youth. One day they’re going to be like us. We don’t want them to come over here and start begging.”

9/15/2011 Navajo Times: Forgotten People seeking DOJ report

9/15/2011 Navajo Times: Forgotten People seeking DOJ report By Noel Lyn Smith: A court hearing has been set for the lawsuit filed by the Forgotten People and 12 other individuals seeking an accounting of the Navajo Rehabilitation Trust Fund. A pretrial conference is scheduled Wednesday, Sept. 21, at 1:30 p.m. before Judge T.J. Holgate in Window Rock District Court. The focus will be on a report the Navajo Nation Department of Justice was supposed to produce on the fund accounting, but has not yet, said a lawyer for the plaintiffs. The trust fund was established by Congress to benefit residents of the former Bennett Freeze and Hopi Partitioned Land. These funds, including accrued interest or investment income, are made available to the tribe “solely for purposes which will contribute to the continuing rehabilitation and improvement of the economic, educational and social condition of families and Navajo communities” affected by various events of the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute.

Money for the trust fund comes from federal appropriations and from money generated by surface and mineral interests in Paragon Ranch, located in northwest New Mexico.

James Zion, attorney for the Forgotten People, said his clients want to know the trust fund’s balance, how much has been spent, and what projects any money was allocated to.

The Forgotten People are residents of the former Bennett Freeze Area and is an association of survivors of the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute.

Both the account balance and expenditures have never been fully disclosed, Zion said.

The group continues to question the use of $7.4 million from the trust fund to purchase a 405-acre tract of land east of Flagstaff for the Twin Arrows Navajo Resort Casino.

In their civil complaint filed in 2010, plaintiffs asked for an accounting 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.

This is the second time a pretrial hearing has been scheduled.

The first pretrial conference was in January, where it was decided that the Navajo Nation’s Department of Justice would produce a report on the accounting actions of the trust fund, but that report was not made, Zion said.

“We’re hoping to move things forward on Wednesday,” he added.

The Forgotten People is inviting all interested parties to attend the conference.