Navajo Fight School District Over Jurisdiction

     ALBUQUERQUE (CN) – The Navajo Nation has no authority over employment policy in a state school district partly on tribal land, a New Mexico school district claims in court.
     Gallup McKinley County Schools countersued a former principal along with members and former members of the Navajo Nation Supreme Court in Federal Court.
     Lead defendant Henry Henderson was principal of Navajo Pine High School for one year, in 2008-09. His contract was not renewed. He also resigned, according to the school district’s July 10 complaint.
     Henderson, a Navajo, made several claims against the district, with the Office of Navajo Labor Relations, the Navajo Nation Labor Commission, and finally with the Navajo Nation Supreme Court. Among other things, he cited the Navajo Preference in Employment Act.
     Conflicting rulings, often favoring the school district, led up to oral arguments in June 2014, in which the school district “reasserted its position that the Navajo Nation lacked jurisdiction over the action and over plaintiff.”
     Some of the district’s schools are on reservation land. Some are in Gallup.
     The Navajo Supreme Court ruled in May this year that the Navajo Nation does indeed have jurisdiction over schools on tribal land, at least in this case, where it claims the school district waived jurisdiction by appearing in tribal court to argue the case.
     In the new complaint, the school district says the Navajo Nation’s courts and agencies have no jurisdiction over a school district which is carrying out its state constitutional mandate to provide a public education for all New Mexico citizens.
     Gallup McKinley County Schools seeks declaratory judgment and wants the Nation enjoined from further attempts to adjudicate employment claims against the district, and court costs.
     It is represented by Andrew Sanchez with Cuddy & McCarthy in Albuquerque.
     Representatives for the Navajo and the school district did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
     Lawsuits between tribes and state agencies often turn on jurisdictional issues, as the federal government has primary jurisdiction in Indian affairs.

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