Facebook Twitter

INTERIM NAVAJO LEADER DECRIES `ROTTEN’ DEALS

SHARE INTERIM NAVAJO LEADER DECRIES `ROTTEN’ DEALS

Leonard Haskie, interim Navajo tribal president, said his people suffered, and are suffering, from a number of "rotten" deals made by former tribal leader Peter MacDonald and companies doing business with the tribe.

MacDonald has been removed from office and faces tribal charges of elections violations, accepting bribes and kickbacks and of conspiring in the tribe's purchase of the Big Boquillas Ranch.Haskie, who spoke Friday at the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, said he's running this year for a four-year term as tribal president. The title of the office was recently changed from chairman to president.

Meanwhile, MacDonald is trying to get a change of venue for his upcoming trial.

Haskie devoted most of his talk to recent changes in the form of tribal government brought about by MacDonald's actions. The 88-member tribal council and chairman's post were formally separated two weeks ago into distinct legislative and executive branches. Previously, the chairman sat on the council and controlled it. The separate judicial branch, broken off in 1985, is functioning well, Haskie said.

The soft-spoken Haskie's most critical remarks came when he spoke about MacDonald's "poor decisions."

In 1977, MacDonald was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges he tried to defraud a utility. The powerful chairman got the tribal council to appropriate $74,000 in tribal funds "to hire F. Lee Bailey to defend him," said Haskie. Some Navajos went to tribal court opposing use of those funds, and the tribal judge ruled that the $74,000 couldn't be spent that way. But the judge was fired and MacDonald and the council appointed a new appellate court, whose judges overturned the fired judge's ruling, Haskie said. Later, MacDonald's trial ended in a hung jury and he continued as chairman.

In the early 1983, Peterson Zah, the Navajo leader who defeated MacDonald for chairman, canceled oil and gas lease talks with Chuska Energy Co. that MacDonald was pursuing. When MacDonald won back his chairmanship four years later, he quickly got the council to sign a new agreement with Chuska.

"Under the first agreement, the tribe would get 30 percent royalties. Under the second agreement, only 20 percent royalties, and our 20 percent came after transportation costs were deducted," Haskie said. He called it a rotten deal.

Also, MacDonald sent the company a letter saying it could assign its oil and gas rights. That had never been done before, Haskie said, and several years later - after exploration - Chuska assigned the rights to a group headed by Australians unknown to the tribe.

Worse, said Haskie, "Usually when we sign a lease there is an upfront payment of $2 an acre for exploration. We didn't get that in the (Chuska) lease. Two dollars an acre for the 254,000 acre lease signed in 1987 would have been half a million dollars up front for the tribe. We didn't get one cent."

When the lease was assigned by Chuska, rumors spread about how much money the oil company made. But Chuska won't say what it assigned the lease for, said Haskie. Haskie said some believe the tribe is owed $9 million from the assignment.

"Navajo protesters now picketing (at the company's offices) want to know, will the tribe get $9 million or nothing. I don't think they (the protesters) will get an answer," Haskie said.