Navajo Nation bill aims to remove attorney general

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 6, 2013 at 2:25 pm •  Published: April 6, 2013
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FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — The top legal official on the Navajo Nation is being targeted for removal from office over his work on water rights and issues related to coal.

Harrison Tsosie was appointed as attorney general in 2011 by Tribal President Ben Shelly and confirmed by the Tribal Council. He previously served as deputy attorney general and ran unsuccessfully for tribal president.

Co-sponsors of legislation to oust Tsosie say he hasn't adequately served tribal lawmakers. They say he has disregarded their suggestions on negotiations for a settlement of the tribe's water rights to the Little Colorado River basin, the potential purchase of a coal mine, and a lease extension for the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station near Page.

Shelly said he is open to hearing the lawmakers' grievances but doesn't know specifically why some want to remove Tsosie. Shelly said lawmakers should consider whether the move would best serve the Navajo people.

"Of all the laws and codes that could be updated, is this really worth pursuing?" said Erny Zah, a spokesman for Shelly. "Is the AG really hindering the growth of the Navajo government and the Navajo people to the point he has to be removed? How is he hurting the people? How subjective are those reasons? Those are some of the real questions."

Tsosie didn't return repeated messages from The Associated Press seeking comment.

The legislation's primary sponsor, Dwight Witherspoon, declined to comment on it. But three of the co-sponsors said Tsosie has presented the council with too few options on some of the most critical issues facing the tribe. The legislation is going through council committees but hasn't yet been scheduled for a vote by the full council.

Delegate Leonard Tsosie said the council's Resources and Development Committee had instructed the attorney general to contact former Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl's office to remove a provision for the Navajo Generating Station from legislation that would recognize the tribe's rights to water in the Little Colorado River basin. Leonard Tsosie said that wasn't done.

"He failed to follow his client instruction and later on gave us an excuse, saying that he would carry out the instruction if it was the whole council telling him to do so," Leonard Tsosie said.

Delegate Joshua Lavar Butler said the council also had asked Harrison Tsosie to set up a due diligence section within the Navajo Department of Justice to look into the pros and cons of the tribe buying a coal mine. Butler said the council would not have approved $3 million in spending for an outside firm to conduct the study had Harrison Tsosie done so.

"If anything, this will send him that message that he is easily replaceable," Butler said.

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