Examining the Right-of-Way Process for Navajo Nation USA Allotment Lands in Connection to the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project

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Bernadette Romero-Benally

Today, there are 567 American Indian nations across the USA. Each tribal government has its own history relating to Indian allotment lands. This research examines the administrative Right-of-Way (ROW) process for the Great Navajo Nation allotment lands by applying a real example of its connection to the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project. A Project that involves two federal sister agencies and Navajo allottees. The Project's ROW application process is initiated by the Bureau of Reclamation through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which will either approve or disapprove the Right-of-Way easement.

One must understand that the ROW process on Indian allotment lands varies throughout the USA. What is a ROW? What are Indian allotment lands? What is the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project? How do these three concepts connect? The examination began by working with the Bureau of Reclamation, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Navajo communities impacted by the Project. One research finding is that the Bureau of Indian Affairs has the authority over the Navajo allotment lands, not the tribe. The construction of the Project was approved by a recent Navajo Nation San Juan River Water Rights Settlement. The surface water of the Project is the San Juan River located near the Four Corners in New Mexico. Another finding is that Indian allotments are deeply rooted in a federal Indian policy known as the General Allotment Act of 1887.

Both the ROW process and the Navajo allotment lands are questionable. We learned that the current ROW process for the Navajo allotment land is quite general. We also learned that the Project pipeline alignment will cross six types of land status. Each type has its ROW process. After examination, the research provides recommendations about improving the current ROW process by creating a framework better to understand the ROW process for Navajo allotment lands. Lessons learned from this research have the potential to guide policymakers, tribal leaders, Navajo allottees, and any economic developer about the ROW issues found on Navajo allotment lands that impact project delays, schedules, and the cost of a project. Today, there are more and more American Indian water rights settlements being settled across the USA. This research recommends including nations, pueblos, and tribe's allotment lands during the water rights negotiations and the economic development plans, specifically the ROW process.