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Utah Republicans shamelessly call on tribes to condemn restorations of Biden monuments

As news broke last week that President Joe Biden restore boundaries of a pair of national landmarks in Utah that former President Donald Trump reduced Four years ago, Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) condemned the decision on Twitter.

Extending the boundaries of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments “is a devastating blow to our state, local and tribal leaders and our delegation,” Romney wrote, adding that Biden had “wasted the opportunity to build consensus by working with stakeholders to find a permanent legislative solution.”

In a opinion Article published in the Deseret News and titled “A Monumental Insult,” Romney, Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) and the rest of the Congressional delegation from Utah argued that Bears Ears, and presumably the restoration of Biden , “does not include crucial contribution and involvement local tribes to protect and enhance their own cultural heritage.

It’s no secret that Republicans in Utah fervently opposed Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears when President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama created them in 1996 and 2016, respectively, and made pressure for Trump’s backtracking. Heads of state have a long history of attacks on public land protections.

But to portray the tribes as agreeing with them is nothing short of dishonest.

Their statements “reflect a fundamental misunderstanding, or complete ignorance, of Indian law and policy,” said Pat Gonzales-Rogers, executive director of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, a consortium of the five tribes who asked Obama to create Bears Ears. a monument. “Tribes are their own unique rulers. Senator Romney does not speak for them.

“Frankly, some of it looks like sour grapes,” Gonzales-Rogers added.

Republicans in Utah did not elaborate on their general claims that Biden’s action somehow harms or offends the tribes, and the offices of Romney and Lee did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

President Joe Biden hands Home Secretary Deb Haaland a pen after signing an executive order to expand the areas of three national monuments during a White House event on October 8, 2021. The Biden administration restored them areas of two Utah sites held sacred by several Native American tribes after former President Donald Trump opened them up to mining, drilling and development during his tenure.

Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images

Bears Ears is the first and only national monument established at the direct request of sovereign tribes. The landscape is home to more than 100,000 known cultural and archaeological sites, including ancient rock art panels and rock dwellings, and five tribes – the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Pueblo of Zuni, and the Ute Indian Tribe – consider the area sacred.

The Grand Escalier-Escalante is also rich in archaeological and paleontological resources. The landscape forms part of the ancestral lands of the Southern Paiute people and many other tribes have historical ties to the area.

When Trump’s Home Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended shrinking Bears Ears in 2017, the Bears Ears tribal coalition condemned it as “a slap in the face to our tribesmen and an affront to Indians across the country.” .

When Trump followed through and reduced the size of the monument by 85%, the coalition quickly took legal action. And when Biden signed a proclamation on Friday to restore the monument to its original size, the coalition celebrated it as recognition of the “deep and enduring ancestral and cultural ties that tribes have with this landscape.”

Deb Haaland’s first trip as Home Secretary was to the two landmarks in Utah, where she met various stakeholders, including tribal leaders who felt ignored and betrayed by the fake revision and rollback of the Trump administration.

In a report submitted to the White House in June and made public last week, Haaland advised Biden to restore both Utah monuments to their original footprints. The 16-page document details the administration’s consultation with 11 federally recognized tribes.

“During the tribal consultation, all of the tribal chiefs and representatives who provided input expressed support for restoring the pre-modified boundaries and conditions of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments,” the report said.

“Some tribal leaders have called the Trump-Pence administration’s action to dramatically reduce monument boundaries as another broken federal government promise, adding to the generational trauma the tribes have endured after hundreds of years of policies. and efforts to exterminate Native Americans and eliminate them from their lands.

Utah Republicans shamelessly call on tribes to condemn restorations of Biden monuments
Ancient granaries, part of the ruins of House on Fire, are shown here in South Fork of Mule Canyon in the Bears Ears National Monument on May 12, 2017, outside of Blanding, Utah.

George Frey via Getty Images

When Biden signed proclamations On Friday, reversing Trump’s setbacks, elected tribal leaders stood behind him, including Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, Ute Mountain President Manuel Heart and Hopi President Timothy Nuvangyaoma.

“Today’s announcement is not just for national monuments,” Haaland said at the signing ceremony. “It is this administration that centers the voices of indigenous peoples and affirms the shared stewardship of this landscape with the tribal nations. The President’s Action Today writes a new chapter that embraces indigenous knowledge, ensures tribal leaders have a seat at the table, and demonstrates that by working together we can build a better future for all of us.

Biden’s proclamation on Bears Ears commits additional resources, including rangers and new informational signage, to better protect the area’s cultural and archaeological resources and to handle increasing visitation.

There are, of course, Native Americans who oppose monuments for various reasons. Rebecca Benally, a member of the Navajo Nation, has been one of the fiercest opponents of Bears Ears, going so far as to say that “national monuments kill people.”

Republicans, including Trump administration officials, have repeatedly told Benally that local Native Americans oppose the monument, and she was among several Navajo members present when Trump dismantled the monument.

But individual tribal members do not speak for the tribes; it is the work of the tribal elected officials. And the tribal support for Bears Ears has been and continues to be overwhelming.

The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition represents the collective interests of the five tribes on Bears Ears in the same way that the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission acts on behalf of four tribes in the Pacific Northwest – Yakama, Warm Springs, Umatilla and Nez Perce – when it comes to fishing problems in the Columbia River watershed.

“When we have consensus, we act on behalf of this tribe for this issue,” Gonzales-Rogers said. “It’s inherently a direct dotted line to each tribe specific to Bears Ears.”

Utah Republicans shamelessly call on tribes to condemn restorations of Biden monuments
Board members, staff and supporters of the native-led group Utah Dine Bikéyah celebrate President Joe Biden’s decision to restore the boundaries of the Bears Ears National Monument to a lookout point on Cedar Mesa in the county San Juan on October 8, 2021, Utah.

The bottom line, Gonzales-Rogers said, is that Romney and other Utah politicians are using the anti-monument views of individual tribal members to distort the positions of elected tribal governments.

Gonzales-Rogers challenged Romney accusing the Biden administration of “wasting the opportunity to reach consensus” with tribes and other stakeholders. The tribes were willing to work with state officials and the Utah Congressional delegation, but they never provided the coalition with their vision and recommendations for Bears Ears, Gonzales-Rogers said. Instead, it became clear that they just wanted the tribes to follow their lead.

“If anyone missed an opportunity, it was the Utah Federal Delegation and the Governor [Spencer] Cox, ”he said. “This premise that the tribes did not want to collaborate and be a partner is incredibly wrong.”

“You have to look at this historically,” he added. The state of Utah “has acrimonious relations with the tribes. He has always questioned the sovereignty of the tribes in his state.

Utah Republicans shamelessly call on tribes to condemn restorations of Biden monuments
Ancient rock art in Sheiks Canyon, part of the Bears Ears National Monument.

Sumiko Scott via Getty Images

Jade Begay, director of the climate justice campaign for the indigenous-led organization NDN Collective, called it a “classic example of divide and conquer.”

“Utah elected officials like Senators Romney and Lee are trying to incite division between indigenous peoples, tribal leaders and communities,” she told HuffPost via email. “Ultimately, the statements of these lawmakers are invalidated by their position within a party that promotes the violation of treaty and Indigenous rights. “

Monday was Indigenous Peoples Day, which honors and celebrates Indigenous communities and their cultures. After invoking the tribes in their continued struggle against protected monuments, not a single member of the Utah congressional delegation recognized the holiday.

Lee, however, acknowledged Taiwan’s National Day Sunday on Twitter. And on Tuesday, Lee and Representatives John Curtis (R-Utah) and Burgess Owens (R-Utah) publicly celebrated National Farmers Day.


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