Published October 12, 2017
WASHINGTON – On Wednesday, Oct. 4, President Russell Begaye testified before the House Natural Resources Committee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs supporting HR 2402.
The legislation aims to unencumber Navajo lands that have been encumbered by preference right lease applications (PRLAs).
“This important legislation brings to a close one chapter of a four-decade-old federal statutory obligation to the Navajo Nation that was authorized in the Navajo Hopi Settlement Act of 1974,” President Begaye said.
Introduced by Congressman Ben Ray Luján, HR 2402 is an attempt to rectify a quandary resulting from the Navajo-Hopi Settlement Act of 1974. The 1974 Act committed Congress to provide the Navajo unencumbered lands that the Nation would select from federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
In the early 80s, the Navajo Nation selected several parcels of federal land, most of which has been taken into trust by the secretary of the Interior for the Navajo Nation.
Unfortunately, many of the parcels selected by the Navajo Nation were encumbered by prior mineral rights (PRLAs) held by private entities. These parcels are unable to be transferred to, and taken into trust for, the Navajo until the private mineral rights are removed.
The current law does not provide a mechanism for deselecting any of the parcels and reselecting others.
HR 2402 will provide statutory authority to resolve these issues by providing a mechanism to retire these remaining PRLAs.
The legislation is a mechanism to unencumber lands by exchanging existing PRLAs for competitive coal leasing bidding rights. Essentially, it serves to exchange the old PRLAs for credits that can be used to meet future obligations under the federal coal leasing program. It authorizes the cancellation of land selection previously made by the Nation and also authorizes the selection of new lands in accordance with the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act on an equal value-for-value basis.
“Ultimately, the passage of HR 2402 would bring closure to one element of the long, painful experience the Navajo people have faced due to the 1974 Navajo Hopi Land Settlement Act,” President Begaye said. “It fulfills a promise made by the federal government to the Navajo Nation 40 years ago.”