Tribal members claim cutting back Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument, coupled with a bill establishing the first tribally managed national monument, is giving tribal communities “a seat at the table” managing their sacred grounds.
Testifying before the House Committee on Natural Resources Tuesday, Posy Band Ute Tribe member Suzette Morris endorsed GOP Rep. John Curtis’ bill, called the Shash Jaa’ National Monument and Indian Creek National Monument Act.
Morris and her tribe are Bears Ears locals located in San Juan County, Utah, next to the monument Trump cut by nearly 85 percent. When former President Barack Obama designated the monument in 2016, Ute tribal leaders in Colorado supported Obama’s action without consulting members living in the monument’s vicinity.
“They decided to support the Obama monument in secret. They didn’t ask the White Mesa Utes to support it, because we don’t,” Morris testified. “The Obama creation of the Bears Ears National Monument never mentioned tribal management, it only created an advisory committee that had no real power or say over the land.”
Trump cut Bears Ears and established two other national monuments in parts of the area formerly under Obama’s Bears Ears designation: Shash Jaa’ and Indian Creek national monuments.
Curtis’ bill sets up the Shash Jaa’ Tribal Management Council, staffed by local tribal members and responsible for gathering input for the monument’s management plan, as well as making changes to the plan based on the needs and heritage of the tribes.
San Juan County Commissioner and Navajo tribe member Rebecca Benally was scheduled to testify Tuesday, as well, but was forced to canceled last minute after getting sick. She sent her testimony ahead to the committee, however.
“In our community, public lands are our most valuable resource. The land is our inheritance, handed down from generation to generation. We treasure the land. We take care of the land,” Benally said in her testimony. “By supporting [Curtis’ bill], you are listening to a group that has been silenced for too long and finally allowing us a seat at the table.”
Tribal members have criticized the Obama designation for months. In May of 2017, Morris said environmental groups “like Sierra Club and SUWA lobby for the full extinguishment of [tribal members’] rights to public lands using false narratives.”
Vice president of the Navajo Nation’s Aneth Chapter Alfred Ben wrote last month that the tribal advisory committee set up by the Obama designation actually hurt Native American interests, being run by “unelected special interest groups” in “secret” meetings that are not published in any official schedule.
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