The Valley of Dreams at the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. Photo: John Fowler

Bears Ears remains in limbo as Republicans leave tribes out of monument bill

A bill being rushed through Congress is raising alarms in Indian Country about the future of the Bears Ears National Monument and other important places.

The House Committee on Natural Resources approved H.R.3990, the National Monument Creation and Protection Act, on Wednesday without so much as a hearing. The markup came just five days after Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the chairman of the panel, introduced the bill.

And like one of his prior efforts, Bishop failed to include Indian Country in the so-called CAP Act, which imposes limits on future national monuments and authorizes reductions in existing ones, like Bears Ears in Utah. While the bill recognizes the interests of state and local governments, it leaves out tribal nations altogether.

“Representative Bishop wants to rush this through Congress without a hearing to avoid having a fruitful discussion about the merits of the bill,” said Matthew Campbell, a citizen of the Native Village of Gambell and an attorney with the Native American Rights Fund.

The bill is part of an ongoing Republican-led campaign against Bears Ears, leaders of the Navajo Nation said. The monument's name comes from the buttes where Chief Manuelito, who signed the tribe's treaty with the United States in 1868, was born.

Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: House Committee on Natural Resources Markup October 11, 2017

"We will continue to work together to fight against any reduction in size of Bears Ears,” Vice President Jonathan Nez said in a press release. “This land protected our Navajo ancestors from the incursion of property theft and forced removal by the Spaniards and Americans. We must protect these lands that shielded our tribes.”

NARF and Navajo leaders also note that H.R.3990, with its provisions affecting already declared monuments, essentially acknowledges what they have been saying all along. President Donald Trump cannot unilaterally change the boundaries of Bears Ears just because he doesn't like them, they argue.

But that hasn't stopped Trump and his administration from asserting the authority to do just that. After visiting Bears Ears in May, Secretary Ryan Zinke of the Department of the Interior recommended a reduction in its boundaries in a memo that he refused to release to tribes or the public.

“I talked to the tribes," Zinke insisted during a meeting of the National Congress of American Indians in June. “I talked to the tribes before, I talked to the tribes after. I called all the tribes."

At the same time, Zinke acknowledged limits in the executive branch's powers when it comes to monuments. He plans to ask Congress to authorize tribal co-management at Bears Ears because, he said, the "president doesn't have the authorization to do that.”

‪Secretary Ryan Zinke discusses his recommendation to revise the Bears Ears National Monument at the National Congress of American Indians midyear conference in Connecticut. He is asking Congress to authorize tribal co-management of a portion of the monument in Utah, claiming neither the Department of the Interior nor President Donald Trump have the power to do that. Session held at Mohegan Sun on the Mohegan Reservation. June 13, 2017. #NCAIMY17‬

Posted by Indianz.Com on Tuesday, June 13, 2017
Secretary Zinke on Bears Ears: 'I talked to the tribes before, I talked to the tribes after'

Zinke repeated the assertion in his previously-secret monuments memo, copies of which were leaked to the media. Five months after the visit to Utah, Interior has yet to advance any legislative proposals to address tribal co-management or to initiate government-to-government talks on the issue.

"The Administration’s position is unknown at this time," Republican staff wrote in a markup memorandum on H.R.3990.

Bear Ears covers 1.9 million acres in southeastern Utah. The monument includes ancestral villages, burial grounds and sacred sites and areas used by tribes for gathering and hunting.

A diverse coalition of tribes, known as the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, supported the monument, which also enjoys widespread support throughout Indian Country. It was among the last to be declared by former president Barack Obama before he left office in January.

Bears Ears isn't the only monument on the chopping block. Zinke wants Trump to change the boundaries of the Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada even though the recent designation is supported by Paiute tribes in the state. A similar recommendation was made for Grand Staircase-Escalante, whose designation in 1996 protected ancestral villages, burial grounds and sacred sites in Utah.

In hopes of finding out more about Zinke's thought process, Democrats introduced H.Res.555 to require Interior to hand over documents connected to the review of certain national monuments. The measure was defeated at the markup on Wednesday after all Republicans, who hold the majority of seats on the House Committee on Natural Resources, opposed it.

Democrats opposed H.R.3990, the CAP Act, but it easily cleared the committee thanks to Republican support.

House Committee on Natural Resources Notice:
Full Committee Markup on Antiquities Act Reform (Wednesday October 11, 2017)

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