Window Rock — The Navajo Nation Council tabled legislation that would allow disputes regarding the coal mine that the Navajo Transitional Energy Company is buying on the Nation's behalf to be settled in state courts rather than the tribe's courts.
The decision was reached Monday at the council chamber in Window Rock after more than two hours of debate related to the purchase of Navajo Mine.
Zurich American Insurance Company is requesting the tribe to waive its sovereign immunity and settle any arbitration in New Mexico and Arizona courts before it and the Arch Insurance Company issue $500 million in bonds and insurances for reclamation and performance to NTEC.
Delegates will return to the issue in a work session and special session scheduled for Friday.
In remarks to the council, NTEC management board chairman Steve Gundersen said the reclamation bond is required by the federal Office of Surface Mining and the performance bond is required by the Four Corners Power Plant, which receives its coal solely from Navajo Mine.
LoRenzo Bates, who is sponsoring the bill, said the request was made by Zurich because NTEC is a new tribal enterprise and it does not have assets or a proven track record.
"It does not change the intent of what we as council voted on, to become a player in the energy field," Bates said.
The motion to table stemmed from discussion surrounding whether or not the legislation required a super majority to pass.
During the special session, delegates were informed that a super majority was not necessary through a memorandum issued Monday by Navajo Nation Attorney General Harrison Tsosie to Speaker Johnny Naize and the council.
Tsosie advised the council that the legislation did not need a super-majority to pass because the previous council enacted the Arbitration Act with a super majority which grandfathers in the waiver of sovereign immunity.
Under Navajo law when the council waives sovereign immunity, it must be approved by two-thirds of the delegates.
Delegate Katherine Benally said removing the super majority requirement for the current legislation would set a bad precedence.
"There are numerous legislations that came before us in this council where the issues were not as tough as this. Yet, we required super majority every time," she said.
Delegate Russell Begaye, who represents Shiprock, motioned to have the bill pass by super majority vote, which delegates passed by a vote of ten in favor and seven opposed.
Earlier in the day, both the Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee and the Budget and Finance Committee gave the legislation a "do pass" recommendation in special meetings.
During the Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee special meeting, Begaye criticized the bill for eliminating Navajo courts, which he said have been recognized throughout the county.
"I believe our court -- Navajo Nation court -- has full capability to do this type of action," Begaye said.
He added that when companies conduct business in foreign countries, disputes are handled in that country's court system.
"This mine is on our land and these are guests to the nation," he said.
When Naize called for the Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee to vote, Shiprock Chapter President Duane "Chili" Yazzie stood and spoke from the area reserved for public seating.
"You are out of order. I stand in opposition to this circus," Yazzie said.
Naize made repeated attempts to explain to Yazzie that the public cannot address the delegates and to return to his seat.
Yazzie continued to address the committee -- which prompted response from a Navajo Nation police officer -- and said the council did not provide the Navajo people the opportunity to learn about the mine purchase deal. He said delegates have spent millions of dollars on the mine acquisition without any approval by the Navajo people.
Other members of the public also voiced their opposition to the bill and to the actions of the council.
There were also comments geared towards Naize and his continued service as speaker despite facing charges filed by the special prosecutor for alleged misuse of discretionary funding.