Court requests response from tribal council

Noel Lyn Smith
Shiprock Chapter

FARMINGTON – The Shiprock District Court has issued the Navajo Nation Council a summons to respond to a petition filed last month by the Shiprock Chapter.

The district court issued the civil summons to Speaker LoRenzo Bates on Tuesday, and the council has 30 days from the date it received the document to file a response.

Jared Touchin, spokesman for the Office of the Speaker, said on Friday a response is coming.

The action comes after the Shiprock Chapter filed a petition for declaratory judgment that requests the court invalidate a tribal council resolution that approves the proposed Navajo Utah Water Rights Settlement agreement.

The chapter alleges the council violated the Navajo Nation Code and Diné Fundamental Law by not submitting the resolution to Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye for his consideration and action. The proposed agreement would settle the tribe's water claims in the upper Colorado River basin in Utah.

Delegates voted 13-7 in favor of the legislation containing the proposed agreement on Jan. 26. Bates signed the resolution on Feb. 2.

Chapter President Duane “Chili” Yazzie filed the petition on behalf of the chapter membership on Feb. 10, followed by an amended petition on Feb. 18.

Yazzie stated in court documents he was authorized by the chapter membership, through resolutions passed on Feb. 7 and Feb. 28, to file the petitions.

During a Feb. 28 chapter meeting, 69 chapter members approved the resolution to "maintain its position" and to pursue the matter without a lawyer.

Prior to the court issuing the civil summons, Shiprock District Court Judge Genevieve Woody ordered Yazzie to submit proof he filed proper notices to the tribe about the chapter's intention to sue the council.

Woody stated in a Feb. 16 order that tribal law mandates that any person or party seeking a lawsuit against the Navajo Nation or any tribal officer, employee or agent must provide notice to the tribal president and the tribe's attorney general.

In a Feb. 17 letter, Yazzie wrote the chapter declined to comply with the notice to sue, and he cited a Navajo Nation Supreme Court opinion from 2010 that stated Navajo governmental entities must have full access to tribal courts when seeking nonmonetary remedies and must have access without undue restraint.

Woody vacated the order on Feb. 26.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.