This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The op-ed by Rep. Jason Chaffetz ("PLI gives tribes more of what they want in Bears Ears," Feb. 7) demonstrated exactly why Native Americans have been failed by the Public Lands Initiative and by members of Congress who continue to tell us they know what is best for tribes.
While it is disappointing that Chaffetz and Rep. Rob Bishop ignored the Bears Ears conservation proposal developed by their own constituents and tribal governments, it is far more insulting that they now argue it is good for tribes.
Utah Diné Bikéyah is a grassroots Native American nonprofit that created the Bears Ears proposal and has engaged with Chaffetz's office at every step of the PLI. We are saddened that after the effort and ambition that went into trying to resolve entrenched land-use challenges in Utah, the result is a widely disdained proposal that has little or no chance of passing Congress.
The premise of Chaffetz's hollow argument is instructive as to the roots of this failure. Chaffetz presumes a Bears Ears National Monument signed into law by President Obama would require management of the area by the National Park Service and that management would disregard tribes' concerns. Had he read our detailed proposal that we hand-delivered to him, he would know that the five tribes of the Inter-Tribal Coalition are asking for a national monument managed by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service. Our proposal gives tribes a seat at the table in management decisions to avoid the kind of past conflicts that have occurred. In fact, many of President Obama's national monuments are managed by the BLM and Forest Service and explicitly guarantee Native American access for gathering and traditional uses.
Just as alarming is Chaffetz's claim that the PLI proposal to transfer Native American sacred sites and tribal reservation lands to the state of Utah for development is "good" for tribes. These are our ancestral lands and our reservations, which are to be held in "trust" by the federal government. The PLI would throw all trust out the door and transfer tribal lands to oil and gas developers.
Finally, Chaffetz fails to even contemplate the question of how the PLI gets signed into law, given the broad opposition from tribes, conservationists, recreationists and others.
It is not surprising that the draft PLI is so problematic. Tribes were forced to walk away from the PLI because it repeatedly failed to respect Native Americans who are the majority of citizens in San Juan County. The Bears Ears proposal received 64 percent of all of the San Juan County citizen comments of support during the public comment process, yet the county and Bishop and Chaffetz ignored this result. We strongly suspect others were similarly failed by the false promise of the PLI.
Utah Diné Bikéyah cares deeply about the future of San Juan County, whose majority of citizens are Native American, but we view land conservation and cultural preservation as the foundations of a strong local economy for generations to come. We believe that depleting public lands of their natural resources is an economic dead end.
We don't yet know if President Obama is willing to act on behalf of tribes, but we do know that the PLI has failed to listen to Native Americans in San Juan County and has completely ignored those tribes outside Utah who trace their ancestors to these lands. Simply put, we believe that the Obama administration may do a better job of listening to tribes through respectful government-to-government dialogue than the Utah delegation has done.
Native Americans look forward to advancing a Bears Ears National Monument that will protect our public lands, strengthen all people and promote the kind of healing our country needs.
Willie Grayeyes is chairman of Utah Diné Bikéyah and lives in Navajo Mountain.