Sunday, December 21, 2014

Native Americans still being screwed by the government

Feds haven't compensated Native Americans 28 years after ordering them to move

Four decades after Congress passed a law forcing the relocation of two Native American tribes, some families have yet to receive the government benefits they were promised in exchange for leaving their homes.
The protracted relocation effort has cost U.S. taxpayers $564 million so far, with as much as $82 million left to go before the special government office established to oversee the process can shut its doors for good, according to the Department of Interior inspector general.
Congress passed the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act in 1974, but efforts to relocate Navajo families living on Hopi land are still underway. That law had placed a five-year time limit on the relocation process once a plan was formulated, which didn’t happen until 1981, the report said.
The specially-created government body tasked with approving requests for relocation benefits, now called the Office of Navajo and Hopi Indian Relocation, should have finished by 1986, but 28 years later, it is still determining whether applicants are eligible.

The IG said it expects costs to grow as time passes and “historical and cultural knowledge” is lost.
After a federal court ruled against ONHIR in 2008 in favor of an applicant who claimed he was never notified of his eligibility benefits before the 1986 deadline, the office accepted a second round of applications from 2008 to 2010.
ONHIR staff are still working through the applications they received during those years, said Larry Ruzow, the office's in-house attorney, told the Washington Examiner.
The government opened another window for applicants in order to "catch" anyone who may not have received adequate notice more than 20 years earlier, he said.
Four times as many eligible households as the government had initially anticipated applied for the benefits. The government originally estimated the relocation process would cost $41 million.
ONHIR has accepted 7,211 applications for benefits since its inception, while approving a little more than half.
Lauren Bernally, policy analyst at the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, told the Examiner she believes the government denies applications based on trivial factors. She said cultural differences frequently prevent Native American applicants from understanding exactly what information is required in order to receive benefits.
Applicants had to have been the head of a household in July 1986 and a legal resident of the partitioned lands as of 1974 to be eligible for the benefits.
Of the applicants that have been approved for benefits, 120 have since had their cases closed without ever receiving benefits because the head of the household died without an heir before relocating or was otherwise unresponsive to the office, the IG said.
Nancy Thomas, ONHIR's chief operating officer, said the screening process can be rigorous.
Besides denying benefits to applicants who can't prove they meet the requirements, ONHIR rejected those that were late and those submitted on the last day but without signatures, Ruzow said.
"If they got them in early enough, we would contact them" and let them know there was a signature page in the application, Ruzow said of the applications that weren't signed.
"But if they sent them in the last day, well, I think that was the penalty for waiting until the last minute."
With a staff of 35 and average annual expenses of $9.8 million, ONHIR has relocated an average of just 19 families each of the past five years.
Funding cuts have been the biggest contributor to the slow pace of benefit approvals, Thomas told the Examiner.
"If we had twice as much money, we could probably move twice as many people," Thomas said.
She noted the office tries to give priority to the elderly applicants waiting for their benefits, but said that "most people moved off this land when they were ordered to."
Still, some families remain on the partitioned land.
"We cant go out with a gun and say 'OK, you're off here.' We don't have that authority," Thomas said.
Thomas Benally, deputy director of the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission and himself a relocated Navajo, called the ongoing government effort a "human rights issue." He said the relocation has been "traumatic" for some.
"There's a lot of anger about it," he said of the fact that the government has taken so long to fulfill its promises.
"I think the hold-up is the Navajo families don't want to move," Bernally said. "They're not going to go through this whole relocation process after so many lies from the federal government."

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