Southeastern Utah Navajos are proposing legislation to put control of an oil royalty trust in the hands of a local council and establish an office to coordinate funding for Utah's Indian programs.
Supporters acknowledge the draft bill may not come before the Legislature this year. But they say it lays the groundwork for solving many of the problems Utah Indians have faced over the years.Sponsored by Vernon Borgeson, a freshman Democrat from Clearfield, the measure would create a state-tribal coordinating office to administer state, county, federal and tribal money to develop programs for Utah's Indian population.
It also would establish a San Juan Dine Leverage Committee, comprised of six members of the Navajo Nation Council and six tribal elders, to use the $1 million a year in royalties from the Aneth oil fields to obtain additional grants from state and federal sources.
It also would ensure the royalties are used only to benefit Utah Navajos, said San Juan County Commissioner Mark Maryboy, Utah's only Indian commissioner.
Maryboy and other Navajos long have claimed that the royalty money now administered by the Utah Division of Indian Affairs has been mismanaged and in some cases used for other purposes.
Harry Jones, a Navajo elder speaking in his native tongue and translated by Maryboy, said the bill would provide "better living conditions on the reservation."
Many of the 6,500 Navajos on the Utah portion of the reservation live in poverty in remote areas that lack water, electricity and roads.
The Indian Cooperative Council would be composed of the president of the Navajo Nation or his designee and the chairmen of the Northern Ute, Southern Ute, Paiute and Ibapah and Skull Valley Goshute tribes and the Northwestern Band of Shoshone.
The panel also would include the leader of an urban Indian organization and the Mixed-Blood Utes.
Among other things, the council would advise the governor, state planning coordinator and others involved in Indian affairs on issues and potential solutions. It also would maintain a clearinghouse of information for Indian interests.
While the bill would restructure the Division of Indian Affairs, Director John Powless said it had "a lot of potential."
In particular, he said, creation of the leverage committee would ensure that the responsibility for the oil royalty money "clearly falls on the shoulders of the Navajo people."