Federal court awards Navajo Nation $31M for federal funding cases

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
The $31 million will be used by the Navajo Nation judicial branch for its programs, projects and facilities.

FARMINGTON — A federal judge has awarded more than $31 million to the Navajo Nation in its legal action against the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs over annual funding provided to the tribe's court system.

The tribe claimed in several lawsuits filed in federal court since 2014 that the Interior Department and the BIA provided inadequate funding for several calendar years to the Navajo Nation Judicial Branch for its courts and programs.

The judicial branch receives federal funding through its contract with the BIA under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, otherwise known as 638 contracts.

In the initial lawsuit filed in 2014, the tribe stated that the federal agencies violated the 638 contract by not issuing a decision about funding within 90 days.

The tribe was awarded approximately $18.28 million in 2020 for the 2014 lawsuit.

The federal judge's decision on March 21 is the latest in the court proceedings.

According to the court order, the tribe was awarded approximately $15.75 million, plus interest, for the case filed in 2015 and approximately $15.61 million, plus interest, for the case filed in 2016.

The judge denied the tribe's claims filed in cases from 2017 through 2020, but the decision can be appealed.

The $31 million will be placed in a fund created last year to hold awards received from the legal actions and will be used by the judicial branch for its programs, projects and facilities.

"We thank the Navajo Nation Department of Justice and commend the foresight of retired Chief Justice Herb Yazzie for their action that has resulted in this award," Chief Justice JoAnn Jayne said in a statement to The Daily Times.

Yazzie started the legal proceedings in 2014 when he was chief justice.

"These much-needed funds will be used to improve our justice system for our Diné people through future development," Jayne said.

The tribe's judicial branch consists of the supreme court, district courts, peacemaking program, and probation and parole services.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e