The largest settlement ever distributed by the US Government to a Native American tribe was awarded this past Friday, September 26th. Leaders of the Navajo Nation gathered at Window Rock, Arizona to receive a $554 million dollar payout from the US government for mishandling their land during the past 60 years.
From 1946 to 2012 some 14 million acres of Navajo land was excavated for gas, coal, oil, and uranium dealing significant damage to the environment. The Navajo Nation is the largest Native American tribe in North America with over 300,000 members. The tribe also owns the largest mass of Native American land spanning 27,000 square miles through Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. The lawsuit was originally filed in 2006 by the Navajo Nation and it claimed that the US government did not adequately negotiate deals with the mining corporations, nor was the tribe appropriately reimbursed for the value of the resources extracted from their land. Furthermore, the profit from the extracted resources was alleged to be irresponsibly invested on behalf of the tribe.
According to Navajo Nation spokeperson Rick Abasta the settlement will aid in “repairing the wrongs that have been done against the Navajo people” and the money is a “much needed cash infusion” that can help to “address some of the disparities that exist in the Nation.” The Navajo people are not the only Native American tribe enduring troubling times. According to the American Indian Census facts of 2008, the overall percentage of Native Americans living below the federal poverty line is 28.2%. The disparity for American Indians living below poverty on the reservations is even greater, reaching 38% to 63% as reported by the National Center for Education Statistics.
Some members of the Navajo Nation live in remote areas absent of running water, electricity, or adequate plumbing and the tribe hopes this money will help improve infrastructure by building roads, power lines, and communication grids. Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly calls the settlement a “victory for tribal sovereignty” and promises to hold a gathering to allow tribe members to voice their opinions on how the money should be spent.
The way forward for the Navajo Nation … is to develop our ability to stand on our own and rely less on the federal government. -Ben Shelly, Navajo Nation president
Despite the large cash payout no amount of money can cover the wrong done to the Native American tribes by the US government. Throughout the US government’s relationship with the Native American people, not one single contract was honored and the tribes were forced to give up their land and relocate. The largest genocide of recorded human history, even greater than the Holocaust, was committed against the Indigenous people of North America. The US government hopes to improve their relationship with Native people, but considering how much the Natives lost and the governments and corporations gained; finding common ground is a challenging task.