Utah lawmakers pass resolution opposing potential designation of Bears Ears National Monument

Members of the Navajo Nation and others opposing the potential creating of the Bear Ears National Monument rally at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City, Utah, May 17, 2016 | Photo courtesy of the Utah Senate blog, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah lawmakers expressed their disapproval of the potential creation of a new national monument in the Four Corners area through the passage of a resolution Wednesday. The resolution decries perceived unilateral use of the Antiquities Act legislators fear President Barack Obama will use to create the Bears Ears National Monument.

House Concurrent Resolution 201, officially titled “Concurrent Resolution Opposing Unilateral of the Antiquities Act,” passed the 64-10 in the Utah House and 23-5 in the Utah Senate. It was done during a special session of the Legislature this week.

Votes were along party lines, with Democrats supporting the monument designation and Republican taking a seemingly “not in my backyard” stance.

The resolution states:

This concurrent resolution of the Legislature and the Governor expresses strong opposition to the designation of a new national monument in the state without local input and state legislative approval.

Potentially covering 1.9 million acres, the Bears Ears National Monument would encompass 40 percent of San Juan County. Opponents of the potential monument designation call it a federal “land grab” that would greatly restrict access and use of area.

Prior to the resolution’s passing, supporters of the designation rallied at the Utah Capitol’s rotunda.

According to Fox 13 News, approximately 200 people — including Mark Maryboy, a former San Juan Country Commissioner and member of the Navajo Nation — were there to show support for the potential monument. At the rally, Maryboy said Utah tribes support it as well.

The tribes are united and community is united,” he said. He also displayed a copy letter of a letter sent to President Obama asking him to create the monument.

An intertribal coalition consisting of the Navajo, Hopi, Ute, Zuni tribes and others advocating for the Bears Ears monument formed in July 2015. Their efforts caught the attention of actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who gave his support over Facebook Tuesday.

“Join the unprecedented unity of the five Native American tribes, Ute Mountain Ute, Navajo, Zuni, Uintah & Ouray Ute, and Hopi, who are leading the way in protecting 2 million acres of public lands called Bears Ears in southeastern Utah,” the Facebook posts states, followed by a like to a petition.

However, lawmakers point out that not all members of the advocating tribes are behind the monument.

As reported by Fox 13 News, San Juan County Commissioner Rebecca Benally, who claims Navajo heritage, said she believes special interest groups are pressuring and harassing Native Americans into supporting the monument designation.

“There’s intimidation, harassment, bullying and the tactic of divide and conquer that is being used against my people, Navajo against Navajo, Native Americans against Native Americans,” Benally said at the Utah State Capitol April 20, according to Fox 13 News.

Members of the Navajo Nation and others held a rally at the Utah Capitol Tuesday opposing the proposed monument.

In a post on the Utah Senate Blog posted Wednesday, state Sen. David Hinkins, the Senate sponsor of the resolution, said the lifestyle of the Native Americans living within and near the proposed monument’s boundaries would be negatively affected. He stated:

The people that would be most significantly impacted by this designation are those who live near Bears Ears. Historically Bears Ears Mountain has been utilized by the Navajo people for multiple uses including gathering wood, medicine, food and other traditional tribal purposes. If it were to be designated a national monument, people, including the Navajos who have long used the land, would be kept out. We saw this happen when the Grand Staircase was turned into a national monument. Those who lived near Grand Staircase, lost their grazing rights and access to the land. Unfortunately, the sad reality is that national monuments are intended to be managed by the federal government, but in reality there is very little management, only restricted access.

Gov. Gary Herbert signed the nonbinding resolution Thursday.

Thus far, no official statement regarding the possible designation of the Bears Ears National Monument has been released by the White House.

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Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

 

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