Environment | National | Politics

Non-Indian official decries effort to protect sacred lands in Utah






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

The non-Indian power structure in San Juan County, Utah, is one of the driving forces against the proposed Bears Ears National Monument.

Native Americans -- mostly members of the Navajo Nation -- represent a slight majority of the county's population. But local elected officials often take stances that are contrary to Native interests.

The potential monument is one of them. Even though six of the seven Navajo chapters in Utah support a designation and even though voters also support protections, county officials claim it would be disastrous.

A monument at Bears Ears "would be almost un-American," commissioner Bruce Adams, who is non-Indian, told The New York Times, implying that tribal citizens are not Americans.

The commission's chairman is Phil Lyman, a non-Indian who has been convicted of leading an illegal ATV ride through Recapture Canyon, a sacred and ancestral site in the county. He was sentenced to 10 days in jail and three years probation, The Deseret News reported in December.

The commission's other member is Native -- Rebecca Benally, who is a member of the Navajo Nation. She has supported some level of protections for Bears Ears but Republican members of Congress -- relying on the county's official position -- claim she actually opposes a monument.

Still, the non-Indian power structure is being slowly cracked. Last month, the Navajo Nation won a major voting rights lawsuit that requires the county to redraw its three districts to better reflect the Native population.

But while that case was proceeding, the county eliminated all polling locations and required residents to send in their ballots by mail. The Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission and several Navajo citizens filed a new lawsuit aimed at protecting their voting rights.

Get the Story:
Remote Utah Enclave Becomes New Battleground Over Reach of U.S. Control (The New York Times 3/13)

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