On August 2, Navajo Nation Speaker Johnny Naize testified to the House of Representatives Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian and Alaskan Native Affairs concerning the division of the former Fort Wingate Army Depot.
Speaker Naize, who is also the Chairman of the Navajo Nation Fort Wingate Task Force, discussed the Navajo Nation’s opposition to HR 4187, the Return of Certain Lands at Fort Wingate to Their Original Inhabitants Act, introduced by Representative Steve Pearce, R-N.M., March 19, 2012.
The Navajo Nation and the Zuni Pueblo have struggled for 15 years to come to agreement on a fair distribution of the Fort Wingate land that reflects the tribes’ historic use and sacred places.
The bill would transfer nearly 5,000 acres of unused land at Fort Wingate to the Zuni Pueblo, and 907 of remediated land to the Navajo Nation.
Any future remediated land would be transferred to the tribes in a manner that would ultimately reflect a 50-50 split.
However, it is not known how much more, if any, of the land can be remediated outside of this initial transfer.
“The Navajo Nation has always sought to find a resolution of this land dispute that reflects a fair distribution but a federally imposed solution would be unacceptable,” Speaker Naize stated.
“The Navajo People have already experienced one federally imposed land distribution it is unthinkable that we should experience a second.”
Representative Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., the ranking member of the Subcommittee, asked both tribes if they would be willing to come together at an event sponsored by the Congressman to try to work through their differences. Speaker Naize and the Zuni representative agreed.
Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska., encouraged both tribes to come to a resolution as soon as possible stating that fifteen years is too long for a negotiation to drag on, and that in the absence of a tribal decision Congress would have to intervene.
Both tribes have 30 days to draft a proposal to provide to Congressman Lujan’s office to begin to prepare for the discussion.
After the hearing Speaker Naize stated “that the hearing was successful, the Navajo Nation set the record straight, that although no part of the Navajo Nation government had ever come to agreement with the Zuni about the distribution of the Fort Wingate lands, we very much want to bring these discussions to a close and divide the land fairly between the tribes in a way that preserves tribal sovereignty.”