Some recent improvements have enriched the lives of Navajos in Utah, but much more needs to be done to give them the political and financial rights they deserve, said San Juan County Commissioner Mark Maryboy.
In a wide-ranging speech sponsored by the Hinckley Institute of Politics on the University of Utah campus, Maryboy outlined some of the strides that have been made and obstacles that remain.On the bright side, more Navajos were registered to vote in an election last year in San Juan County than any time in history. And for the first time, there was an all-Indian slate of candidates, Maryboy said.
Tensions arose between Native Americans and whites during the election, but it "caused a lot of people to do a lot of soul-searching" and tensions have eased, he said.
Also, Maryboy said an audit done three years ago of county finances showed Navajos were getting only a pittance. Today, Maryboy said funds still aren't being distributed as they should, but some progress has been made: A full-time Navajo administrator has been hired to do such things as determine needed road and housing repairs.
There also has been talk on the state level, but no firm plans, for electricity and running water for the reservation.
On the other side, Maryboy said he has concerns about proposals to sort out the troubled multimillion-dollar Utah Navajo Trust Fund. It is financed by royalties paid by oil companies that drill on Aneth fields on the reservation.
A recent state audit showed millions of dollars from the trust fund - intended to improve the lives of impoverished Indians - were squandered through mismanagement, waste and fraud.
Maryboy has long criticized the way the fund was administered by the state.
He said one legislative bill, SB91, would set up a trust administrator at an annual cost of $200,000. "I feel like it will be too expensive," Maryboy said.
Critics of the bill point out that under restrictive provisions that allow only trust fund interest to be spent, one-third to one-fifth of all revenues generated would go to pay an administrator.
Maryboy would like to see the state assume the cost.
There also are plans afoot to permanently transfer responsibility for administering the trust fund to the Navajo Nation. "The intentions are good, but the Utah Navajos are not being involved," he said.