Mitt Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts and the Republican nominee for president in 2012, is running for a U.S. Senate seat in Utah. Photo: Gage Skidmore

Senate candidate Mitt Romney supports dismantling of Bears Ears

Though he has distanced himself from President Donald Trump in the past, Mitt Romney, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Utah, is in lockstep with the administration on a key issue in Indian Country.

Romney supports the dismantling of the Bears Ears National Monument. He's even showing voters a video that portrays Trump as a "hero" for cutting the boundaries by 85 percent, The Associated Press reports.

“Finally the land has a voice, a champion and a hero,” the video says, the AP reported. In Romney's eyes, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who recommended the reduction in Bear Ears despite tribal opposition, is the "champion" while Trump is the "hero."

Romney also believes states should be able to manage public lands. Tribes had been granted a role at Bears Ears but Trump has since taken that off the table with his contested directive.

"I think the state would do a better job because we care so deeply," Romney told The St. George Spectrum. "It's right here in our home."

Romney is a former governor of Massachusetts who was the Republican nominee for president in 2012. He has not made Indian issues much of a priority during his prior campaigns.

He may not need to during his Senate run either. Though five tribes -- including three with homelands in Utah -- are challenging the dismantling of Bears Ears in federal court, most non-Indians in the state thought it was too big, according to a Salt Lake Tribune / University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics poll.

Most non-Indian politicians, including the outgoing Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), whose seat Romney is seeking, also opposed the monument designation.

Native Americans represent 1.6 percent of the population in Utah, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But in San Juan County, where Bears Ears is located, they have long comprised the majority and the near-majority of residents.

Yet many tribal citizens feel left out when it comes to issues they deem important. That's particularly the case in San Juan County, non-Indian power structure has been found to violate the constitutional rights of Indian voters.

Press conference to elevate tribal voices in Utah state governance. #StandWithBearsEars

Posted by Utah Diné Bikéyah on Tuesday, March 6, 2018
Utah Diné Bikéyah on Facebook: Elevating Indian Issues in Utah

“Native Americans must have a say in not just how the state administers policies in and around their reservations, but with anything having to do with their lands,” said Mark Wheatley, a Democratic state lawmaker, said on Tuesday as he and fellow Democrats called for more attention to Indian issues. “Up until now they’ve been shut out of the process."

Along with Democrats, the Utah Tribal Leaders Association, the Utah League of Native American Voters and Utah Diné Bikéyah -- all of which support the Bears Ears National Monument as originally designated -- are pushing for the creation of a Cabinet position for Indian affairs within the state. They also want the Utah Legislature to consider establishing an Indian affairs committee.

“I think it’s time for the state of Utah to move forward to recognize the eight native tribes in the state, and bring them to the same level as other cabinet positions,” said Virgil Johnson, the chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation and the chairman of the Utah Tribal Leaders Association. “This would open up many doors that are now basically closed.”

Former president Barack Obama designated Bears Ears in December 2016. The 1.35 million-acre site includes ancestral territory, burial grounds and sacred sites in southeastern Utah.

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

President Trump issued a proclamation last December that did away with "Bears Ears" and instead created two much-smaller units, called Shash Jáa and Indian Creek. Together, the area consists of 228,784 acres, according to the White House, far smaller than the 2016 designation.

Shash Jáa gets its name from the Navajo words for "bears" and "ears." Leaders of the Navajo Nation have said they weren't consulted prior to the use of their language by either Trump or Republican members of Congress who have introduced a controversial bill to confirm Trump's decision to reduce the size of the monument.

In dismantling Bears Ears, Trump did away with a tribal commission that was going to help manage the monument. Instead he said tribes could only play a role in the Shash Jáa unit.

Prior to the announcement, Secretary Zinke said that tribes cannot manage public lands. During his first appearance before the National Congress of American Indians last June, he said only Congress has that power.

The Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, the the Ute Tribe, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and the Zuni Tribe are suing Trump in hopes of blocking his attempt to reduce the size of Bears Ears. The case is being handled in federal court in D.C., though government attorneys are trying to get it moved to Utah.

Read More on the Story:
Romney downplays Trump feud, focuses on Utah in campaign (The Associated Press March 9, 2018)
Senate candidate Mitt Romney on Bears Ears, climate change, Russia (The St. George Spectrum March 5, 2018)

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