Environment | National | Politics

Navajo Nation Council dispels misinformation about Bears Ears






Cedar Mesa in Utah was home to the ancestors of today's Pueblo tribes and other tribes. Photo by Don Romnes

Delegates to the Navajo Nation Council are standing behind the proposed Bears Ears National Monument in response to misleading claims about a lack of support in Utah.

The Navajo Nation joined other tribes in Washington, D.C., earlier this month to call for the protection of 1.9 million acres of ancestral and sacred sites in Utah. Their announcement and positive media coverage prompted Republican members of Congress to claim that "many Native Americans" don't support the monument designation.

But Navajo lawmakers said that's far from the case. Six of the seven Navajo chapters in Utah support the Bears Ears National Monument, they said.

"Seemingly false statements are being made to the media that the Bears Ears proposal is not supported by local chapters and local people,” Delegate Davis Filfred, who represents communities in Utah, said in a press release. “This is not accurate."


Utah Dine Bikeyah Board Chairman Willie Grayeyes, left, and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe council member Malcolm Lehi ride horses at Bears Ears in Utah. Photo from UDB / Facebook

Non-tribal members want to see the monument too, delegates said. A 2014 vote in San Juan County drew 64 percent support even though it was removed from the ballot as a potential alternative to development plans, they noted.

“Some officials are misinforming the public by stating that the proposal is not supported at the local level and this could not be further from the truth,” said Delegate Herman Daniels, Jr., who also represents communities in Utah. "The reality is that there is strong support from the grassroots, local level, to the top tribal level.”

Despite the misleading claim about "many Native Americans," Utah Republicans are still fighting a potential designation. An August 5 letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell cites a lack of support from Gov. Gary Herbert (R) and the San Juan County Commission

One of the county commissioners, Rebecca Benally, is a member of the Navajo Nation, and the letter said she voted in support of a different conservation plan that would include parts of Bears Ears but not the entire area that tribes want to see protected.

The other two commissioners are non-Indian and both are Republican. The chairman is Phil Lyman, who has been convicted of promoting an illegal ATV ride through Recapture Canyon, an area that's home to ancestral tribal villages and archaeological resources. Sentencing has been delayed, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

Native Americans represent nearly 47 percent of the population in San Juan County, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

An Opinion:
Malcolm Lehi and Willie Grayeyes: We’ve gone to Obama to protect Bears Ears because Utah and San Juan County won’t even listen (The Salt Lake Tribune 20/25)

Related Stories:
Tribes call for establishment of Bears Ears National Monument (10/16)
Jim Enote: Bears Ears worthy of status as national monument (10/14)
Tribes call for new national monument on sacred lands in Utah (8/5)