Monday, November 14, 2011

Navajo Nation Supreme Court Comes to YLS

On November 14, 2011, the Navajo Nation Supreme Court held a sitting at the YLS auditorium! The justices were Chief Justice Herb Yaffee, Associate Justice Eleanor Shirley, and, by special designation, Justice Wilson Yellowhair. The case, Navajo Nation v. RJN Construction Mgmt., Inc., Robert J. Nelson, and The Home for Women and Children, focused on one of the most nuanced and contentious issues American Indian governments face: the ownership of Indian land held in trust by the federal government. It also addressed the complex interplay between the community's use of reservation land and business interests. 

The disupute concerned the ownership of Shiprock Home for Women and Children, which was built by a nonprofit on the Navajo Reservation. The nonprofit claims the property as their own, but the Navajo Nation says that, since no individual or organization can own reservation land, it is under their care. A district judge ruled in the Navajo Nation's favor last February, granting them an injunction to prohibit shelter officials and the construction company from interfering with the tribe's completion of the project. The defendents, made up of the shelter's staff, RJN Construction Management, Inc., and the company's chief executive officer, Robert Nelson, are now appealing the injunction.  

The Navajo Supreme Court is the sole appellate judicial body on the reservation and hears cases from the Nation's ten judicial districts. All judges are appointed by the President of the Navajo Nation and confirmed by the Navajo Nation Council. The Supreme Court applies a mixture of Navajo Nation statutory law, traditional law, Navajo common law, and federal law.