This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
In the next few weeks, Utah Congressmen Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz will attempt to push through the U.S. House of Representatives the first Indian land grab in over 100 years. HR5780, the Utah Public Lands Initiative, proposes to roll back federal policy to the late 1800s when Indian lands and resources where taken from tribal nations for the benefit of others.
The actions of Bishop and Chaffetz would seek to divest the Ute Indian Tribe of their ancestral homelands and rekindle failed policies of tribal land dispossession that have had a devastating and lasting impact upon tribal nations for the past century.
The Ute Indian Tribe strongly opposes H.R. 5780 due to the devastating effect it would have on our reservation and precedent that the bill sets for federal Indian policy. We were shocked to learn that the bill proposes to take more than 100,000 acres of our reservation lands for the state of Utah. This modern day Indian land grab cannot be allowed to stand.
Bishop and Chaffetz's actions also defy common sense. The bill involves seven counties in eastern Utah. Our 4.5 million-acre reservation overlaps these counties and makes up 26 percent of the total land area covered by the bill. Representing more than a quarter of these eastern Utah lands, the tribe should have been a major participant in the development of any bill to address problems in federal land management. We were not.
The National Congress of American Indians, the oldest and largest inter-tribal organization representing tribal nations throughout the United States, issued a resolution opposing the taking of our tribal homelands, and this was provided to Bishop and Chaffetz well in advance of the time the current legislation was introduced. Despite knowing of these concerns, Bishop and Chaffetz have proceeded to move forward with this legislation. Perhaps they don't understand their solemn obligation as representatives of the United States to fulfill the trust obligation to tribal nations, or maybe they just don't care.
Other legislation introduced in the House Natural Resources Committee by Bishop has sought to turn back the clock by reverting to other past failed policies of the United States in its treatment of native peoples. Specifically, the congressman has sought to limit the full and final settlement of tribal reserved water rights throughout the West, has sought to change the well-established process for federal recognition of tribal nations and has sought to employ other tactics that seek to divide and create conflicts between Tribal Nations. It would appear that Bishop wants to eliminate the government-to-government relationship and trust that has been built up in Indian country through the work of this Democratic administration and other past administrations. Reverting to failed past federal policies of termination and assimilation will not serve to advance or benefit either Indian country or this country. If this is Bishop's objective, he should resign his position as chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee for his failure to understand and uphold the obligations of the United States to tribal nations.
If the congressmen had demonstrated sound leadership and accepted the Ute Indian Tribe as a full partner in the development of this legislation, we could have developed a Public Lands Initiative capable of passing Congress. After the November elections, the Ute Indian Tribe will still be here working to improve the management of our reservation. With these unlawful proposals to terminate our tribal homelands off the table, we need a Public Lands Initiative that benefits all of Utah, including the state's oldest residents the Ute Indian Tribe.
The authors, members of the Ute Business Committee, are Shaun Chapoose, Chairman of the Business Committee and Uncompahgre Band representative; Edred Secakuku, Vice Chairman of the Business Committee and Whiteriver representative; Tony Small, Uncompahgre Band representative; Ronald Wopsock, Uintah Band representative; Bruce Ignacio, Uintah Band representative; Cummings Justin Vanderhoop, Whiteriver representative.