Chairman Shaun Chapoose of the Ute Tribe is seen outside of the main Department of the Interior headquarters in Washington, D.C., on September 27, 2016. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Ute Tribe demands 'voice' as Donald Trump orders review of Bears Ears monument

The Ute Tribe is once again taking on powerful interests as it seeks to prevent the Trump administration from undermining the Bears Ears National Monument.

Ute leaders have been major champions of the new monument in southeastern Utah. They call its designation an exercise of the federal government's treaty and trust responsibilities to their people because it protects their ancestral territory.

But Bears Ears -- already unpopular among politicians in the state -- is facing a new attack. President Donald Trump derided the monument an "abuse" of the government's power on Wednesday and ordered the Department of the Interior to review it.

“The monument was designated in response to government-to-government discussions that honored the trust relationship between the federal government and Indian Country,” the tribe's business committee said in response on Thursday. “Any proposed changes can only be done through full tribal consultation that respects our sovereignty and the authority of the tribes to manage the monument.”

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has promised to go to Bears Ears within the next 45 days to hear from tribal, local and state interests. Ute leaders are welcoming the visit but they are already alarmed by his declaration -- found in a press release -- that "rural America has a voice again" as a result of Trump's executive order.

“What about our voice?” the tribe said in its statement. “It’s been almost two months since we asked Secretary Zinke to meet. He must live up to his commitment to work with tribes, honor our voice, and not just listen to D.C. politicians.”

Tribal leaders, singers and veterans take part in a celebration for the new Bears Ears National Monument in Utah on January 7, 2016. Photo by Tim Peterson

Ute leaders last year battled Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the powerful leader of the House Committee on Natural Resources when he introduced a bill that essentially punished them for supporting Bears Ears. The measure would have taken federally-managed land within the tribe's reservation and transferred it to the state.

The tribe slammed the effort as a "modern day Indian land grab" -- a description that clearly disturbed Bishop. Opposition from the Utes, the Navajo Nation and other tribes kept the bill from getting too far in the last session of Congress.

But while he may have lost the fight on Bears Ears, Bishop isn't giving up on the larger war. One of his subcommittees is meeting next week for a hearing with a provocative title -- "Examining the Consequences of Executive Branch Overreach of the Antiquities Act."

The Antiquities Act is the century-old law that authorizes presidents to create national monuments out of federal lands. That's exactly what Barack Obama did by protecting 1.35 million acres of sacred lands, burial grounds and other important sites at Bears Ears in Utah.

“If President Trump wants changes in how national monuments are designated, he should change how the law is used in the future [not] revoke or change monuments already agreed to.” the Ute leaders said.

“The only groups opposed to Bears Ears and other monuments are D.C. politicians and their lobbyists," the tribe said. "This monument was established with the input and support of five tribal nations and should not be arbitrarily set aside or rescinded.”

House Subcommittee on Federal Lands Notice:
Oversight Hearing on the Consequences of Executive Branch Overreach of the Antiquities Act (May 2, 2017)

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