Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, was proposing an uncontroversial bill last week to allow more funds from the Utah Navajo Royalties Fund to be freed up for scholarships for San Juan County Navajo, when Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, challenged the fact that the scholarship is administered by white Utah officials.
“In reality, it's three white guys that make the decisions,” Noel said. “I just think it’s a good idea to have Navajo input -- anyway you can put that in this bill?” The short answer from Van Tassell was no.
His proposed that Senate Bill 40 was meant solely to shore up funding that the Utah Navajo Royalties Fund was short on in helping tribal students in San Juan County complete college degrees as part of scholarships they had received through the fund. The fund was established in 1933 to direct oil-development royalties in southern Utah to both the Navajo nation and Utah Navajo in San Juan County.
The fund provides scholarships for San Juan Navajo but Van Tassell explained that more money needed to be released from the funds to offset rises in tuition. He pointed out that the fund administers roughly $500,000 a year to help more than 200 tribal members who have received scholarship, but tuition rises were jeopardizing the ability of those already enrolled from being able to complete their degrees. Noel had no argument with releasing more funds, but he also brought up constituent concerns that the scholarship administrators needed to have Navajo representation.
“My whole concern is not to get the students entangled in that,” Van Tassell replied, arguing that broader reforms over Navajo authority over the funds and their programs was a larger discussion to be had, likely later on in the session. Noel had no objection and voted with the rest of the House Government Operations Committee to unanimously pass out Van Tassell’s Senate Bill 40, but also looked forward to the broader discussion.
“It’s their money, and if it's scholarships for Navajos then it ought to be Navajos making that decision,” Noel said.
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