To the editor:
I heard that Utah will be selling and exchanging state land tracts on the Navajo reservation in Utah next month. This land will go to private interests and the Bureau of Land Management for other lands near Lake Powell for development of marinas.This effort by Utah will displace hundreds of Navajo families from 44,161 acres within their own Utah reservation of Navajoland in the very near future.
These lands were taken by the state of Utah for the development of schools, but now their exchange and sale of Utah state school sections will require removal of Navajo families who reside on those lands.
During the 1950s, the state was successful in withdrawing hundreds of thousands of acres throughout Utah, including 44,161 acres of trust land on the Navajo Reservation. The United States instantaneously removed the native homeland of many Navajo families residing on those lands and transferred title to Utah for development of schools.
As a result of this action, many families cannot build or improve their homes, don't have electricity and water, because the land belongs to the state and there are no provisions by the state for the handling of such matters.
The state has set Sept. 30, 1989, as the deadline for the exchange of lands and will proceed with the private sale of state school and to individuals for private economic development.
In 1987, Albert Deschinnie, now of the Navajo Tribe's Office of Legislative Affairs, and I worked for Navajo Land Administration as title examiners and on behalf of the Navajo Tribe attended to negotiate a settlement with the state, which informed us that the Navajo families would have to be relocated as they were trespassers under Utah state law.
One of the basic requests made by the Navajo Tribe office of Navajo Land Administration was that the Navajo Tribe receive advance notice for any land transfers on proposed land transfers contemplated within the exterior boundaries of the Navajo reservation.
At that time, we were advised the Navajo Tribe could not receive this but were informed that by state law the tribe did not qualify as a public user and therefore had no right to receive advance notice of any proposed land exchange or sales.
The procedure was further complicated by the fact that a member of the Utah State Land Board, Calvin Black, is a resident of Blanding and is an interested party in acquiring the Monument Valley tract known as Section 32 for development of tourism-related businesses and has made his interest known.
This board must recommend approval of an transfer or sale of lands from the state back to the Navajo Tribe. At present, the tribe will be hard pressed to stop a sale and tranfer in the next month.
I am no longer with the navajo land Administration, but after hearing the news that Utah will be selling these lands, I can't help but wonder if this will parallel our experience in the Navajo-Hopi land dispute, where the Navajos were caught off guard and now the families in that area bear the high cost in ruined lives, dispossession from familiar lands and cast to the wind like sand.
Norman F. Cambridge