June 27, 2023 — The San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe, a Native American tribe located in Arizona and southern Utah, may finally secure its own reservation. The Tribe has been advocating for its rights to ancestral lands for nearly two centuries.
In his April 5, 2023, press release about the San Juan Southern Paiute Tribal Homelands Act, sponsor Elijah Crane wrote that the San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe is currently the only federally recognized tribe in Arizona without its own land, having partially shared its ancestral homeland with the Navajo Nation. “Congress should not stand in the way of the San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe’s self-governance for the sake of overburdensome oversight and legalism. This is a classic example of a small community that has been overlooked for far too long,” said Rep Crane. “Last year, former Rep. Tom O’Halleran introduced this legislation in the 117th Congress, and I strongly believe that it is worthy of reintroduction this Congress.”
The Bill Pending in Congress.
- Name: HR 2461
- Status: Under consideration in the U.S. House of Representatives.
- What it Does: If passed, the bill would establish a reservation for the San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe. This follows the approval of a treaty that was agreed upon 23 years ago between the Tribe and the Navajo Nation.
The Tribe’s History.
- The San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe has resided in the area for centuries.
- In 1907, the U.S. government allocated land for the Tribe in southern Utah. However, this land was later declared as part of the Navajo Nation in the 1930s.
- The Tribe received federal recognition in 1989.
- A court ruling in 1992 established that the San Juan Southern Paiute and the Navajo had a joint interest in a parcel of land. Subsequently, the two tribes negotiated the current treaty.
The Importance of a Reservation.
- Self-Governance: Having their own reservation is crucial for the tribe’s autonomy.
- Access to Basic Services: It ensures that the tribal members have access to necessities such as housing, water, healthcare, and electricity.
Johnny Lehi Jr., the President of the San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe, emphasized the significance of a reservation in a committee hearing, saying that generations have passed without the establishment of the Tribe’s homeland. Without it, the Tribe is unable to access various funds and is often treated like a stranger in its own ancestral lands.
The Specifics of the Treaty and Legislation.
- Land Allotment: The treaty would grant the San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe 5,400 acres of land that is currently part of the Navajo Reservation.
- Water Rights: The treaty includes water rights for the Tribe.
- Funding Access: Formalizing the reservation will enable the Tribe to access state and federal funds that were previously inaccessible.
Water Rights Provisions.
As this writing, the bill states the following:
SEC. 10. WATER RIGHTS.
House Subcommittee on Indian and Insular Affairs Chairwoman Harriet Hageman stated that bills like HR2461 are crucial for rectifying past injustices and fulfilling the U.S. government’s obligations toward the tribes.
Current Status and Support.
- When Introduced: HR2461 was introduced in April 2023.
- By Whom: The bill was introduced by first-year Rep. Elijah Crane, R-AZ.
- Support: The Department of the Interior, Navajo Nation, and Hopi Tribe support the bill.
- Next Steps: The bill is awaiting further action.
This legislation represents a monumental step for the San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe, which seeks to establish its reservation and enrich its community’s future.
Map Source and Credit (top of page) – Screenshot from the San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe’s website.