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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - May 11, 2005)

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By Mr. McCAIN:

S. 1003. A bill to amend the Act of December 22, 1974, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Indian Affairs.

Mr. MCCAIN. Mr. President, today I am introducing legislation to amend the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act of 1974 in order to bring the relocation process to an orderly conclusion. I look forward to working with all affected parties on this bill and will work with them to ensure it takes into account their views. This bill will phase out the Navajo-Hopi relocation program by September 30, 2008, and at that time transfer all remaining responsibilities to the Secretary of the Interior. It provides a time certain for eligible Navajo and Hopi individuals to apply for and receive relocation benefits and after that time the Federal Government will no longer be obligated to provide replacement homes for those individuals. Under this legislation, the funds that would have been used to provide replacement homes to such individuals will be held in trust by the Secretary for distribution to the individual or their heirs.

The Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act of 1974 was enacted to resolve longstanding disputes that have divided the Navajo and Hopi Indian Tribes for over a century. The origins of this dispute can be traced directly to the creation of the 1882 reservation for the Hopi Tribe and the subsequent creation of the 1934 Navajo Reservation. At the time these reservations were established, Navajo families lived within the lands set aside for the Hopi Tribe and Hopi families lived within lands set aside for the Navajo Nation and tensions between the two tribes continued to heighten. In 1958 Congress, in an effort to resolve this dispute, passed legislation that authorized the tribes to file suit in Federal court to quiet title the 1882 reservation and to their respective claims and rights. That legislation gave rise to over 35 years of continuous litigation between the tribes in an effort to resolve their respective rights and claims to the land.

In 1974, Congress enacted the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act which established Navajo and Hopi negotiating teams under the auspices of a Federal mediator to negotiate a settlement to the 1882 reservation land dispute. The act also authorized the tribes to file suit in Federal court to quiet title the 1934 reservation and to file claims for damages arising out of the dispute against each other or the United States. The act also established a three member Navajo-Hopi Indian Relocation Commission to oversee the relocation of members of the Navajo Nation who were living on lands partitioned to the Hopi Tribe and members of the Hopi Tribe who were living on lands partitioned to the Navajo Nation. Since its establishment, the relocation program has been an extremely difficult and contentious process.

When this program was first established, the estimated cost of providing relocation benefits to approximately 6,000 Navajos estimated eligible for relocation was roughly $40 million. These figures woefully underestimated the number of families impacted by relocation and the tremendous delays that have plagued this program. By 1996, the United States had expended over $350 million to relocate more than 11,000 Navajo and Hopi tribal members. At that time, there remained over 640 eligible families who had never received relocation benefits and an additional 50 to 100 families who had never applied for relocation benefits. There were also over 130 eligibility appeals pending. Without question, the funding for this settlement has far exceeded the original cost estimates by more than 1000 percent. Since 1975, Congress has appropriated over $440 million for this program.

At its inception, the relocation program was intended to be a temporary program that was established to fulfill a specific mission and we cannot continue to fund it with no end in sight. Moreover, I am convinced that our current Federal budgetary pressures require us to ensure that the Navajo-Hopi relocation housing program is brought to an orderly and certain conclusion. It is for that reason that I am introducing the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act Amendments of 2005. This legislation will phase out the Navajo-Hopi Indian relocation program by September 30, 2008, and transfer the remaining responsibilities under the act to the Secretary of the Interior. Under the bill, the relocation commissioner shall transfer to the Secretary such funds as are necessary to construct replacement homes for any eligible head of household who has left the Hopi partitioned land but who has not received a replacement home by September 30, 2008. These funds will be held in trust by the Secretary of the Interior for distribution to such individual or their heirs. In addition, the bill includes provisions establishing an expedited procedure for handling appeals of final eligibility determinations.

This bill is similar to the legislation I introduced during the 104th Congress. S. 1111 proposed to phase out the relocation program by September 2001. A hearing was held on that bill and comments were received from the affected parties. At that time, many of the witnesses stated that with limited exception, the program could come to a resolution under the time line proposed in S. 1111. Opposition to passing the legislation was based in part on the incomplete process of approval of the accommodation lease agreements between the Hopi Tribe and individual Navajos who were still living on the Hopi partitioned lands. That action has since occurred and the Commission has had eight additional years to conclude its responsibilities. Therefore, it is now time for the Congress to act to bring the long and difficult process of relocation to an orderly conclusion.

I ask unanimous consent that the full text of the bill be printed in the RECORD.

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