Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Attempts to create new county could negatively affect Native Americans

Attempts to create new county could negatively affect Native Americans

Hale: ‘We’ve been down this road before’

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Rep. Albert Hale, D-St. Michaels (District 7), spoke in a House committee hearing about the potential negative consequences of SB 1283, a bill that would establish a committee to study the feasibility of creating a new county that would include a large Native American population. Hale said that this study committee could lead to the disenfranchisement of Native Americans in Arizona.

In committee, Hale said the Legislature made a similar attempt in the early 1980s.  Hale said former Gov. Bruce Babbitt vetoed that legislation because it created new county boundaries based on racial lines. The new county would have consisted entirely of the Navajo and Hopi nations.  Hale added that the current proposed legislation could lead to similar results.  Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly and Hopi Tribal Chairman LeRoy N. Shingoitewa both sent letters to the Legislature opposing the bill.

“We’ve been down this road before and it was very divisive,” Hale said. “Legislation like this needs the support of the Native American nations it would affect. That isn’t the case. If the intent of SB 1283 is to study the feasibility of a separate county for Native Americans, not only is that discriminatory but we already know it is not feasible. Property taxes are not collected in Native American nations, so this proposed county would have no way to sustain itself. However, there is an easier and simpler way to return sales tax money back to Indian nations.  I have been introducing legislation for the last 12 years that addresses the issue of returning TPT revenues to the Native American nations.”

Hale explained that currently, Transaction Privilege Tax money, or sales tax, is collected from non-Indian-owned businesses operating on Native American lands. The tax money is distributed to the state, counties and municipalities incorporated under state law. Indian nations are not included in the distribution formula. His bill would correct this problem by including Indian nations in the distribution formula.

Hale introduced HB 2522, which would put 50 percent of TPT money collected from businesses on Native American lands directly back into the communities where it was collected. The bill would allow the use of the Indian nations’ share of TPT money as collateral for bonds to finance telecommunications, infrastructure development, community projects and roads.

“Introducing a bill that directly affects members of the Native American community without first talking to affected Indian nations is contrary to long-established government-to-government relationships between Indian nations and Arizona. Creating a separate county to further separate Native Americans from their neighbors is offensive.  We are already living on reservations that separate us from others. We do not need another reservation on top of the present reservation,” Hale said. “And a study committee is a waste of time. If the intent really is to return money to the nations, SB 1283 is not the way to do it. How much more studying do we need to arrive at the conclusion that Indian nations should be included in the TPT distribution formula?”

Despite these objections, and without the support of any Democrats, the committee passed the bill. It now goes to the House Rules Committee. 

Rep. Hale is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation. He was born in Ganado and raised in Klagetoh, Arizona. He is Ashiihi (Salt), born for Todichiini (Bitter Water). His maternal grandparents are Hanaghani (Walk About clan). His paternal grandparents are Kiyanii (Tall House clan). He is a 1969 graduate of Fort Wingate High School, a Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school located east of Gallup, New Mexico. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona (1973), and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of New Mexico School of Law, Albuquerque, New Mexico (1977), and an honorary Juris Doctor degree from Phoenix School of Law (2012).  He is a member of the New Mexico State Bar Association and the Navajo Nation Bar Association. He also is the former President of the Navajo Nation.


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