Letter to the editor: Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition discontinues discussions over tribal objections with Public Lands Initiative

To the editor:

On Dec. 31, the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition sent a formal letter to Utah Congressmen Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz discontinuing discussions over including tribal objectives in the congressmens' Public Lands Initiative (PLI). The PLI is a process initiated in 2013 by Bishop to resolve long-standing disputes over conservation on federal public lands in eastern Utah.

The Hopi, Navajo, Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute, and Zuni tribes created the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition in July of this year with the mission to protect and preserve the Bears Ears region in Southern Utah. The tribe-led proposal is formally supported by an additional 19 tribes and the National Congress of American Indians.

The tribes developed a comprehensive proposal for a 1.9 million acre Bears Ears National Monument, encompassing a glorious landscape that had been tribal homeland since time immemorial. Indian people were forcibly removed to reservations starting in the mid 1800's. The area is now federal public land.

The tribes submitted a detailed and creative proposal to President Barack Obama Oct. 15. The president has broad authority to create national monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act, and Bears Ears is a leading candidate. The coalition is hopeful that the president would grant Bears Ears monument status, but decided to try first the congressional route of the PLI to satisfy recommendations of the Utah delegation.

In its letter, the coalition detailed a long and callous PLI pattern of not taking seriously the concerns of tribes. In numerous meetings, the tribes put forward compelling, specific reasons for protecting Bears Ears. But the coalition never received any responses to the proposal, positive or negative, just continuing delay.

This has been a problem with the PLI, which has been consistently plagued by missed deadlines. PLI representatives promised a draft proposal by Nov. 30, and then guaranteed delivery of a report by Dec. 30, but the draft report has never been delivered. The coalition still had not received any idea of what the PLI intends to do.

The tribes also faced outright discrimination by the San Juan County Commission. The commission promised to include the tribal proposal in its citizen survey, but then reneged. A write-in campaign ensued and the tribal proposal received an overwhelming 64 percent of the votes. The commission then recommended an industry-supported proposal, which received less than 1 percent of the votes. The coalition's letter described this as 'extraordinary unfairness and "the kind of raw, heavy-handed political overreaching rarely seen in America today."

The tribes concluded that the coalition had no choice but to discontinue PLI negotiations. Now the tribes will turn to the Obama administration for monument designation under the Antiquities Act. Obama has on several occasions welcomed tribal national monument proposals.

The Bears Ears region in Southeastern Utah is home to more than 100,000 Native American cultural sites. A consortium of sovereign tribal nations has united in the effort to conserve the Bears Ears landscape. More information about the region and the Bear Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition is available by visiting www.bearsearscoalition.org.

Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition

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