Resources and Development Committee hears public comments about NAPI land lease proposal
UPPER FRUITLAND — John Blueyes' maternal grandparents used to live on land that would become the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry.
His relatives, like several Upper Fruitland Chapter members, were removed from the area to accommodate construction of the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project, followed by the 1970 establishment of NAPI as an agricultural business and tribal enterprise.
Blueyes said his parents and grandparents were not educated and were unaware of their rights when federal and tribal officials made verbal offers for the area.
He recalled trucks hauling away the family's livestock and later finding documents about the relocation that were given to his family.
"Interesting enough, the paperwork were drafts. No dates on them, no signatures on them," Blueyes said.
His story was told among the comments made to the Resources and Development Committee in response to a bill that requests the Navajo Nation lease more than 72,000 acres of land that is used by NAPI.
An August 2017 resolution by the NAPI Board of Directors states the tribal enterprise "does not currently have a lease" for its operations and must have an agreement to engage in development and commercial farming in accordance to its plan of operation.
Establishing such an agreement will be completed in four phases, according to NAPI officials. The first phase includes land within the areas of Upper Fruitland, Nenahnezad and San Juan chapters.
The committee spent Aug. 6 at the Upper Fruitland Chapter house, listening to comments about the legislation.
Lionel Haskie, operation and maintenance manager at NAPI, said the area comprising phase one is 72,114 acres.
In an overview of the master lease agreement, NAPI would employ a minimum of 250 full-time employees and provide up to 300 seasonal jobs as well as offer donations to the communities and offer $60,000 in annual scholarships.
"We hope that your community will give us a supporting approval, resolution on this lease one of these days," Hoskie said.
The bill was introduced in June and is sponsored by Delegate Rick Nez, who serves as chairman for the committee.
The committee has final authority for the legislation. In a July 25 memorandum from Nez to officials in the three chapters, he wrote that the bill was tabled with a directive to conduct a work session or a public meeting in the communities situated within the vicinity of the proposed lease area.
Residents shared stories throughout the meeting about the relocation of loved ones and about unfulfilled promises of compensation and economic development in remarks that continually contested the legislation.
Aaron King, president of the Upper Fruitland Community Land Use Planning Committee, read a statement that included the names of more than 30 families affected by the relocation.
"All these families and their intermediate family were affected, and all were insufficiently compensated because of this predicament," King read.
Besides the emotional toll, residents now deal with environmental issues they claim come from farming activities at NAPI.
Upper Fruitland Chapter President Lynlaria Dickson shared chapter resolutions, beginning in the 1980s, that call for returning land to the chapter, addressing environmental concerns and reserving vacant land for the chapter to lease for residences.
"I know there is an emphasis that is in our past history. That is that their farms and their grazing areas were taken from our community," Dickson said.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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