"It's fair to say we've made significant progress, and a lot of the major hurdles in those negotiations have been passed," he said.
The Navajo Nation already owns and operates about a dozen businesses on the reservation, including a utility company, a transit system, a housing authority, radio stations, an oil and gas company, and shopping centers.
Tribal officials declined to release the memorandum of understanding reached with BHP but said the Navajo Nation would acquire mining equipment, improvements at the mine, intellectual property rights and permits. Zah said the Navajo Nation would not be responsible for environmental liabilities or remediating the tribal land mined by BHP.
Naize acknowledged the agreement could draw criticism as environmental groups push the Navajo Nation to decrease its reliance on coal. He said he was hopeful the tribe eventually would move toward sustainable energy sources.
That's a future that Mike Eisenfeld, of the San Juan Citizens Alliance in New Mexico, said he would rather see sooner than later and urged officials to make details of the sale as public as possible. Some Navajos have argued that the mine negatively affects the land, air and water they depend on.
"It's about a long-term vision," Eisenfeld said. "What's the vision?"