Utah group aims to elevate Native issues in an unusual election

A view of Bears Ears, a sacred and historic tribal area in Utah. Photo by Tim Peterson

The 2016 election cycle is one of the strangest on record, as Mark Trahant frequently reports, and one group is trying to help ensure Native issues don't get ignored.

The Utah League of Native American Voters is hosting the first-ever Native issues forum next Wednesday as the November election quickly approaches. Representatives of several campaigns -- Republican and Democrat alike -- have committed to attending the non-partisan event.

"In Utah politics, tribes are often lumped in with public lands management issues or multicultural policy," organizer Moroni Benally, a citizen of the Navajo Nation, says. "Tribes have a unique political and legal relationship with the state and federal government and deserve to have their voices heard."

Tribes in the state also have committed to sending representatives to the Urban Indian Center in Salt Lake City on October 26 event. Along with community leaders, they plan to ask the campaigns about sovereignty, economic development and other issues.

Those kinds of issues aren't generally raised during campaigns in Utah even though the state is home to five tribes and a number of bands within those tribes. Native Americans represent just 1.5 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Utah Native American Candidate Forum takes place October 26, 2016 at the Urban Indian Center in Salt Lake City.

But in this unusual year, the Ute Tribe has launched an unprecedented effort to defeat a Republican lawmaker who is trying to push a controversial public lands bill through Congress. A representative of Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) is expected to attend next week's forum.

The seat is considered safe Republican so the tribe's campaign isn't likely to significantly alter the race at this stage in the game. But in an equally unprecedented move, The Salt Lake Tribune on Thursday endorsed Democrat Peter Clemens over Bishop.

H.R.5780, the Utah Public Lands Initiative Act, the paper's editorial board writes, "has fallen victim to a flawed process that gave county commissioners too much at the expense of Indian Tribes and environmental advocates."

"Maybe it's time for a healer," the editorial read, in reference to Clemens, who is a physician.

The editorial is a sign of the struggles facing Republicans in the state. Most have abandoned their party's nominee, Donald Trump, alarmed by his comments about women, minorities and others.

But that doesn't mean voters are flocking to Democrat Hillary Clinton. The climate surrounding the two major party candidates is so toxic that Evan McMullin, a Utahn who is running as an independent, is now leading the race in the Beehive State, according to a new poll from Emerson College.

Although Utah's Native population isn't as large as some of its neighbors, there are areas like San Juan County where Native Americans represent a majority or near-majority. But tribal members there have found it difficult to make their voices heard in a system long controlled by non-Indians. The Navajo Nation, the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission and several Navajo citizens are pursuing litigation to make it easier to vote and to ensure more adequate representation in the democratic process.

Join the Conversation

Related Stories
Navajo Nation opposes bill that reduces share of trust revenues (10/19)
Ute Tribe goes to war against 'modern day Indian land grab' bill (10/19)
Ute Tribe goes ignored again as lawmakers host field hearing on energy (10/03)
Field hearing scheduled on energy development in Indian Country (09/28)
Ute Tribe continues battle against 'modern day Indian land grab' (09/28)
Bill slammed as 'modern day Indian land grab' moves forward (9/22)
Navajo Nation voters seek restoration of polling sites in Utah (09/21)
Utah Republican moves quickly on 'modern day Indian land grab' (9/19)
Emotions run strong as #NoDAPL seeps into debate on controversial public lands bill (9/14)
Ute Tribe: Utah Republican pushes modern day Indian land grab (9/13)
House committee considers controversial Utah public lands bill (9/12)
Editorial: Bears Ears in Utah deserves protection as new monument (08/01)
Richard Moe: Protecting sacred and ancestral land at Bears Ears (7/20)
Tribes gear up for fight over protections for sacred land in Utah (7/15)
Funding bill for Indian Country clears House for first time in years (7/14)
Editorial: Bears Ears in Utah is worthy of monument designation (06/20)
Opponents rely on dirty tricks as tribes aim to protect sacred land (06/06)
Editorial: Obama should declare a Bears Ears National Monument (04/25)
Rebecca Benally: Navajos in Utah oppose Bears Ears monument (04/13)
Non-Indian official decries effort to protect sacred lands in Utah (03/15)
Non-Indian official decries effort to protect sacred lands in Utah (03/15)
Navajo citizens sue county in Utah for making it difficult to vote (03/02)
Tribes oppose effort to stop Bears Ears National Monument in Utah (03/10)
Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk: Protect Bears Ears for new generations (03/04)
Navajo Nation wins decision over voting districts in Utah county (02/26)
Obama weighs tribal request for Bears Ears National Monument (02/12)
Kevin Washburn: Republicans punish tribe with public lands initiative (02/08)
Tribes reiterate bid for national monument at Bears Ears in Utah (01/22)
Navajo Nation Council dispels misinformation about Bears Ears (10/29)
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 (08/05)
Trending in News
More Headlines