Congress to determine future of the Utah Navajo Trust Fund

The future of the Utah Navajo Trust Fund, a multi-million dollar trust fund set up to benefit Utah Navajos, was the focus of hearings in Washington, D.C. on June 19. Two options are under consideration for the fund, including giving the fund to the Navajo Nation or creating a private, non-profit organization to administer oil and gas royalties.

San Juan County Commissioner Kenneth Maryboy played a key role in the recent activities surrounding the Trust Fund. Commissioner Maryboy, Mark Maryboy and Phil Lyman made the trip to Washington to be a part of the Congressional hearing. They reported the results to the San Juan County Commission on June 23.

Several groups testified before the Committee on Natural Resources on June 19, including Ross Swimmer of the US Department of the Interior; Tani Pack Downing, Deputy Chief of Staff to Utah Governor Jon M. Hunstman; Joe Shirley, President of the Navajo Nation; Davis Filfred, Navajo Nation Council Delegate from the Mexican Water Chapter; Clarence Rockwell, Executive director of the Navajo Utah Commission; and Mark Maryboy, former county commissioner and Navajo Nation Council member.

The option to turn the fund over to the tribe appears to have the support of the federal government agencies, while support for the non-profit organization option is growing among local and state entities, in addition to elected officials in Washington, D.C.

The Navajo Nation desires to be the new trustee of the fund. Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley testified that the tribe already receives nearly two-thirds of the oil and gas royalties and should be able to administer the additional portion. Several spoke in favor of turning the fund over to the tribe, including the Department of the Interior official.

Mark Maryboy gave the final testimony of the hearing. It was reported to the county commission that Maryboy was the only strong voice opposed to giving the money to the Navajo Nation Administration.

He said that if the tribe acts as the trustee, Utah Navajos likely will never see any benefit from the fund. He suggested that a private non-profit organization be given the responsibility to manage the fund.

Maryboy made the point that the Tribe, because they are immune to lawsuits from the beneficiaries, would not be held to the same level of accountability as a private non-profit organization. His plan is to reorganize Utah Navajo Development Council, with proper representation from the Utah Navajo Chapters.

Maryboy said that UNDC could be an independent trustee, held to a higher level of accountability to the Federal, State, and County government, as well as to the Tribe. He emphasized that San Juan County Navajos are citizens of the State of Utah and should be accepted and treated as such, but at the same time they are citizens of the Navajo Nation.

He said that San Juan County Navajos are located in the richest part of the entire reservation, yet they are among the poorest people on the reservation and in the state of Utah.

It was reported to the County Commission that the Utah Congressional delegation, in addition to representatives from the Arizona delegation, seem to favor Maryboy’s proposal.

In addition, local government agencies are lining up behind Maryboy’s proposal, including the San Juan County Commission. UNDC is anxious to obtain resolutions in support of their venture. They seek support, namely from the Utah Navajo Health Systems, CEU which benefits from the many scholarships funded by the Trust Fund, Blue Mountain Hospital, the Dine Committee, the Navajo Utah Commission, San Juan School District, and any other organizations that would lend their support.

UNDC believes that a united front will help to secure future participation for the residents of San Juan County in the decision-making process for the expenditure of the fund. Commissioners heard that the board of UNDC believes that the fund, if properly handled, can fuel expansion and development that will be a tremendous benefit, not only to the beneficiaries, but to the County and to the State as a whole.

UNDC has had its own checkered past. Phil Lyman, principal of a San Juan County-based CPA firm, said that UNDC has just about burned every bridge and was on the verge of winding up its operations completely. Lyman contacted the two remaining board members of UNDC and asked if they would prefer to put an end to UNDC or to establish a new accounting system and seek new management. The board opted to restructure and asked Lyman to act as their agent in re-creating the organization.

Regarding UNDC, Mark Maryboy said: “This debate is not about UNDC. It is truly about the beneficiaries of the trust and what can be done to best serve them. The Utah Navajos are among the poorest people in our country today. We need economic development, we need education, we need health care, but if this is all that the money from the trust provides it will have fallen far short of its real purposes.

“Self-determination; self-governance; these are the real objectives. These are ideals that can actually shape a community, that give hope and self respect, that build trust, that help to develop a sense of pride and ownership. In truth these are ideals that cannot be granted or denied, they exist in each of us. How we conduct ourselves will determine if we retain those rights.”

The State of Utah is set to walk away from its trustee status over the Utah Navajo Trust Fund on July 1. The federal government will determine a new trustee for the fund in a process that may take several years to finalize.

The fund currently holds roughly $25 million in oil and gas royalties. It was set up in 1933 and amended in 1968 to manage a percentage of the oil and gas royalties produced on the Utah Portion of the Navajo Reservation. A total of 37-1/2 percent of the royalties collected by the federal Department of the Interior are transferred to Utah for the benefit of the Utah Navajos.

The beneficiaries are “Navajos residing in San Juan County”. The fund is “for the health, education, and general welfare of the Navajos living in San Juan County.”

San Juan Record

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