Valley of the Gods, one of the areas excluded by President Donald Trump in his proclamation that dismantled the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. Photo: Josh Ewing / Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition

House panel schedules a second hearing on GOP bill to gut Bears Ears

Republican leaders are taking another stab at a controversial bill that would gut the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah and restrict tribal involvement on their ancestral lands.

The House Subcommittee on Federal Lands first took up H.R.4532, the Shash Jáa National Monument and Indian Creek National Monument Act, on January 8, barely a month after it had been introduced. Despite touting their bill as one to establish the "first" tribally managed monument, Republicans invited only one elected tribal leader to the hearing.

"Each of the tribes making up the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition is its own sovereign government. Each of us have our own unique and negotiated relationship with the United States," Shaun Chapoose, a council member from the Ute Tribe, said at the hearing. "This relationship is highlighted in the United States Constitution and began long before Utah became a state."

"Yet, at this hearing, our five tribes are forced to share one seat, while every level of the state of Utah is represented, including: the state government, county government and a Utah stakeholder lobbying group," Chapoose added.

The subcommittee did take testimony from another Indian witness -- Suzette Morris, a citizen of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe who was invited by Republicans at the last minute. She said she received a phone call on "Sunday evening," just two days before the hearing.

House Committee on Natural Resources on YouTube: Legislative Hearing on H.R. 4532, the Shash Jáa National Monument and Indian Creek National Monument Act

"There is no one who cares for the land more than we do, the local residents and Native people of San Juan County," Morris said as she expressed support for H.R.4532. The bill would appoint a person from her Ute Mountain Ute community, known as White Mesa, to serve on a "tribal management council" for the downsized monument.

But Chapoose said the bill undermines the government-to-government relationship between tribes and the United States by limiting who can participate in the management of the lands in Utah. He compared the effort to darker chapters of the nation's past.

"It is not up to the United States or Congress to select who will represent our tribes," Chapoose testified. "This is an inappropriate return to the failed policies of the 1800’s when the United States would divide tribes and pursue its own objectives by designating for itself which tribal representatives the United States would negotiate."

The bill, for example, excludes participation by the Ute Tribe, the Hopi Tribe and the Pueblo of Zuni, whose leaders supported the designation of Bears Ears. Yet it includes San Juan County, where the non-Indian power structure has been found to violate the constitutional rights of Native residents.

"It is up to sovereign tribal governments, not the United States, to select our own representatives," Chapoose said.

Video footage courtesy Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition: President Trump Dismantles Bears Ears National Monument

Together, the Ute Tribe, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Hopi Tribe, the Pueblo of Zuni and the Navajo Nation were supposed to be a part of the Bears Ears Commission to help manage the monument. The Trump administration has basically called the commission illegal and never gave it a chance to play a role at Bears Ears, instead insisting that only Congress can authorize tribal co-management.

"Under my administration, we will advance that protection through a truly representative process, one that listens to the local communities that knows the land the best and that cherishes the land the most," President Donald Trump said last month as he signed a proclamation gutting the size of Bears Ears by 85 percent. The five tribes are challenging his move in federal court.

There is a rival Bears Ears bill that has more significantly more support than H.R.4532. H.R.4518, the Bears Ears National Monument Expansion Act, would reaffirm the role of the tribal commission in managing the monument.

But only Democrats are sponsoring H.R.4518 and it has not been granted a hearing by the Republican leaders of the House Committee on Natural Resources.

The second hearing on H.R.4532 takes place January 30. A witness list hasn't been posted online yet.

House Subcommittee on Federal Lands Notice:
Legislative Hearing on H.R.4532 (January 30, 2018)

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