This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The past few weeks have been troubling for our tribes (Hopi, Navajo, Ute, Mountain Ute and Zuni), which are formally joined in a union of governments as the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition. President Trump's issuance of a presidential memorandum to proceed with the Dakota Access pipeline over the objections of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe disregards treaty rights and threatens tribal sovereignty, and we pray that it is not a sign of things to come for Utah.
Utah's GOP congressional delegation, state Legislature and governor are threatening our sovereignty as well by calling upon the president to undo Bears Ears National Monument. We are dismayed that such actions are being discussed without consulting us, before our new secretary of interior has even been confirmed.
The relationships that govern Native American tribes and the federal government seem not to be understood by some among Utah's Republican politicians. There are three sovereignties in the United States, as clearly stated in the U.S. Constitution the federal government, the states and Native American tribes.
The state of Utah represents one sovereignty, and though its opinions are valid, through our coalition, we represent the official action of five sovereignties. Joining us are the sovereign actions of 26 other tribal governments who have all passed resolutions in support of protection of Bears Ears. Beyond that, the more than 250 additional tribes of the National Congress of American Indians have resolved to protect Bears Ears as well.
Further, the federal government has a trust relationship to tribes. It is responsible for protecting Native American tribal interests, among those interests are our ancestral lands. The Bears Ears cultural landscape, which bears the signs of our habitation, migration and care for countless generations is vital to all of us for the preservation of our culture and our history.
In an act of unprecedented solidarity between our tribes, we set aside our differences to advocate for the designation of Bears Ears National Monument. The Obama administration honored our tribes by meeting with us repeatedly to understand our connections to Bear Ears, but they protected half a million fewer acres than we requested and, in that act, left out countless sacred sites.
The boundaries of Bears Ears as protected also closely match Rep. Rob Bishop's failed Public Lands Initiative legislation, so we are left wondering why he objects to Bears Ears National Monument so strenuously. To cut the boundaries further would add insult to the injury of the injustices visited upon us in the recent past.
According to the trust relationship and the government-to-government relationship, consultation with tribes must occur before sweeping decisions are made. For a newly confirmed interior secretary to recommend any action diminishing Bears Ears would be a superlative dishonor to both the trust relationship and the government-to-government relationship, and would position the Department of Interior for some very rough going in Indian Country.
We have asked Interior Secretary-designate Ryan Zinke to meet with us when he comes to Utah, and we hope that he will hear our concerns. After all, he has more experience with Indian Country that most politicians, and has earned praise for reaching out to Montana's tribes. In his Senate confirmation hearing, he said:
"I love Teddy Roosevelt's idea that we should think bold and big, and prepare for the future… I have great respect for the Indian Nations... and we need to listen to that voice... Sovereignty should mean something… The duty of the Department of Interior is to make sure we have broad consensus on what we're doing."
Mr. Zinke, despite the cries of some politicians in Utah, there is no broad consensus to undo or to shrink Bears Ears National Monument. The recent Conservation in the West poll found 80 percent of Westerners favor keeping our national monuments for our future. Bears Ears, as the first tribally proposed national monument and the first to recognize Native American traditional knowledge as a resource to be protected by the monument, is exactly the kind of big and bold thinking Teddy Roosevelt spoke about.
Our tribes have learned great patience with the federal government despite its abuses done to our people. We are as committed to defending Bears Ears National Monument as we were to its designation. Our cultures take the long view, and we hope Zinke will take the next step in the long history of Bears Ears with us, not against us.
Thank you – Elahkwa, Ahéhee', Tog'oiak', Kwakwhay.
Alfred Lomahquahu serves as Hopi Vice Chairman and Co-Chair of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition.