In a landmark settlement, which Navajo president Ben Shelly describes as “fair and just,” the United States government has been ordered to pay reparation amounting to $554 million for mismanaging Navajo lands.
The Navajo nation is the largest indian (native american; indigenous) tribe in the United States, with roughly 300,000 members (which is a little less than 1% of the U.S. population), occupying about 27,000 square miles spread throughout New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona.
The settlement originates from a 2006 court case, which sought $900 million in damages for the mismanagement of Navajo lands in the sense that they were not managed for maximum profit. When I first read this headline, I expected that the problem was the lack of respect for the ecological wellbeing of the lands the United States governments was in charge of managing (which amounts to over 14 million acres).
Instead of dealing with ecological mismanagement, the actual issue was the government acted the part of a corporate lackey: awarding land-use contracts as political favors, and “didn’t do a good job in getting a fair market value” and then failed to properly invest any profits, according to Navajo lawyer Andrew Sandler.
This is the largest (eclipsing the second highest sum by $170 millions) among a succession of similar settlements with native communities by the U.S. justice department.
When asked what the tribe would do with the money, which is scheduled to be transferred within the next two months, Dwight Witherspoon of the 24-member Navajo National Council suggested it would be used for infrastructure projects like roads, clean water, and housing. A public discussion of how the money will be used has been scheduled for October.