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Navajo Council tables proposal related to mine

Published December 24, 2013 5:47 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Farmington, N.M. • Members of the Navajo Nation Council tabled a proposal that would let disputes over a New Mexico coal mine that's being bought on behalf of the nation be settled in state courts rather than tribal courts.

The Farmington Daily Times reports that the decision to table the proposal Monday stemmed from discussion among council delegates during a meeting in Window Rock over whether it required a super majority for passage.

Delegates will revisit the Navajo Mine proposal Friday.

Zurich American Insurance Company is asking the tribe to waive its sovereign immunity and settle any arbitration in New Mexico and Arizona courts before it and another company issue $500 million in bonds and insurance to a tribal company set up to purchase the mine.

Council Delegate LoRenzo Bates, sponsor of the bill, said the request was made by Zurich because the tribal company is a new enterprise and it doesn't have assets or a proven track record.

"It does not change the intent of what we as council voted on, to become a player in the energy field," Bates said.

Earlier on Monday, two tribal committees endorsed the proposal.

During a committee hearing, Delegate Russell Begaye criticized the proposal for eliminating Navajo courts, which he said have been recognized throughout the county.

"I believe our court — Navajo Nation court — has full capability to do this type of action," Begaye said.

He added that when companies conduct business in foreign countries, disputes are handled in that country's courts. "This mine is on our land, and these are guests to the nation," he said.

Before one of the committees was to take a vote, Shiprock Chapter President Duane "Chili" Yazzie stood up and spoke from a public seating area.

Several attempts were made to explain to Yazzie that the public cannot address the delegates and to get him to return to his seat.

Yazzie continued to address the committee, prompting a response from a Navajo Nation police officer.

Yazzie said the council didn't provide the Navajo people the opportunity to learn about purchasing the mine. He said delegates have spent millions of dollars on the mine acquisition without any approval by the Navajo people.