A Democratic lawmaker said Republicans were using a local official and Navajo tribal member as a “token” minority in support of a mineral and land-use rights bill that is meant to oppose a potential national monument.
Utah Navajo Native and San Juan County Commissioner Rebecca Benally testified in support of the bill Wednesday, but California Rep. Raul Ruiz said her support meant little since the Navajo president and council opposed the bill, which was introduced by Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop.
“First of all, saying that the Navajo Nation supports this land grab because one Navajo woman acting as a commissioner is like using her as a token spokesperson for her nation,” Ruiz said during a House Committee on Natural Resources hearing.
The “land grab” Ruiz is referring to is a claim that Bishop’s bill would transfer 100,000 acres of tribal lands to the state of Utah. Bishop said this is false, but Ruiz persisted.
“That is wrong and that is not right,” he said. “The Navajo Nation under their president and their council opposes this land grab and they are in solidarity with the Ute Nation.”
While Navajo leadership may oppose Bishop’s bill, other Navajo tribal members joined Republicans outside the capitol building Wednesday to support the bill and to oppose the White House creating a new national monument on tribal lands.
Benally is also the only elected official in Utah, representing a county that’s got a sizable Navajo population. San Juan County is also where the potential Bears Ears National Monument is located.
Benally supports Bishop’s bill, which is meant to stop the Obama administration from turning Bears Ears butte into a national monument. Such a designation could hurt her county’s economic future.
“As a Diné woman, a Navajo woman, and the first to ever serve as a San Juan County Commissioner I want to say, that despite what others have said, the Public Lands Initiative has been a process that has included all San Juan County residents,” Benally said of Bishop’s bill.
“My constituents are Utah Navajos who have historically been forgotten or bullied by both the federal government and their own tribe,” Benally told lawmakers.
“Now so-called environmentalists and their corporate benefactors are adding their own chapter to this sad story, using a few members of our community who are desperate for a paycheck to advance the agenda of outside interests,” she said.
Republicans are demanding Ruiz apologize for his “token” comment.
“She in no way deserves to be called a ‘token’, nor to have her legitimacy as an elected official questioned,” Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz said in a statement.
“Mr. Ruiz owes Commissioner Benally an apology for the unacceptable way he treated her testimony,” he said.
Ruiz’s office did not respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.
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