Fresh from an unprecedented election campaign in southeastern Utah, the state's Navajos joined with other tribes in taking their campaign for self-determination to the 1991 Legislature.
When the final gavel fell, they'd restructured the Utah Division of Indian Affairs, taken control of a multimillion-dollar oil royalty trust fund and learned some serious lessons about state politics."There was a lot of politicking. Things went back and forth," said Mark Maryboy, a San Juan County commissioner, Navajo tribal councilman and member of the Utah Inter-tribal Coalition. "But through persistence and hard negotiation, we got through."
The Indian Affairs Act replaces the UDIA's board of directors with an Indian Cooperative Council made up of Navajos, Utes, White Mountain Utes, Northwestern Shoshoni, Piautes and two Goshute bands. An eighth member will be appointed to act on behalf of urban Indians on the Wasatch Front.
The second panel, the Dineh Committee, will oversee a controversial $8.5 million trust funded with royalties paid by oil companies that drill on the Aneth fields of the Navajo Reservation in southeastern Utah.
Maryboy and other Navajos for years have complained that the trust fund, which brings in about $2.6 million a year, has been mismanaged by its state handlers.
Those allegations have prompted audits by the legislative auditor general and an independent accounting firm, although neither has been completed.
In recent years, the current UDIA board has administered the fund, which is funneled through the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs for the exclusive benefit of some 6,500 Utah Navajos.
Now the Dineh Committee will have "sole responsibility for allocating Navajo trust funds. It will fall squarely on the shoulders of Navajos," said UDIA Director John Powless.
Sponsored by Republican Rep. David Adams of Monticello, the bill had the support of Gov. Norm Bangerter. It supplanted a similar measure drafted by the inter-tribal coalition that never cleared the House Rules Committee.
Bud Scruggs, Bangerter's chief of staff, said that while there has been no evidence of fraud in the trust fund's management, money had been wasted in bad business decisions, most involving companies established through the trust fund to provide jobs for Navajos.
"There's been millions of dollars wasted, and the people it was intended to help were not being helped," he said. "First, we wanted Navajos to be in charge of Navajo money. Second, we wanted Navajos to have access to the expertise they need to make the best decisions possible."
The Dineh Committee, named for the word Navajos use to describe their people, will include representatives of the seven tribal chapters in Utah and four specialists in education, business, health and water and mineral rights.
The bill passed in the final minutes of the general session also includes an amendment providing for an "Outreach Subcommittee" for urban Indians in Utah, Salt Lake and Weber counties, a mixed-blood Ute from Duchesne or Uintah counties and an at-large mixed blood.
The legislation takes effect April 29.
To Maryboy's knowledge, this year's effort was the first time Utah Indians had joined forces to take their concerns to the Legislature.
"I honestly believe that working with state and local officials is effective," he said.