Kenneth Maryboy, a citizen of the Navajo Nation and advocate for the Bears Ears National Monument, won the Democratic primary to serve on the commission in San Juan County, Utah. Photo: Utah Diné Bikéyah

Mark Trahant: Bears Ears gains a voice with #NativeVote18 results

One election winner this week: Bears Ears
By Mark Trahant
Indian Country Today

A county commission race in Utah was a local referendum of sorts on the Trump administration’s actions to reduce the size of the Bears Ears National Monument.

Rebecca Benally, Navajo, had been an outspoken supporter of the Trump administration on the monument. As a San Juan County Commissioner she maintained that the county would do a better job of managing the area than the federal government. She told a House committee: “I believe we’ve done a great job to keep it a pristine area for decades and decades until someone noticed and wanted to have deep-pocketed interests take an interest in the area for self-serving needs.”

Benally’s position was about the opposite of the Navajo Nation as well as many grassroots groups in the area.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke poses with Rebecca Benally, an outgoing commissioner for San Juan County in Utah, at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City on December 4, 2017. President Donald Trump announced the dismantling of the Bears Ears National Monument on that day. Photo: Tami A. Heilemann / U.S. Department of the Interior

Kenneth Maryboy, Navajo, defeated Benally in the Democratic primary on Tuesday. The vote was 626 to 574. Maryboy is a board member for Utah Diné Bikéyah, a nonprofit with the mission to: “Preserve and protect the cultural and natural resources of ancestral Native American lands to benefit and bring healing to people and the Earth.” At the top of that list: Bears Ears.

Maryboy has long advocated for federal protection of Bears Ears and other sacred lands citing the theft of artifacts, and the prospect of creating a new model for regional sustainable economic development.

The most important thing about this election, however, is that it ends the Trump administration narrative about local support for their actions by Native Americans (at least at the government level). While the area tribes supported the previous monument standards, the Interior Department could turn to San Juan County Commissioner Benally for a more favorable response. That’s no more.

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

San Juan County has been a battleground over voting rights. A second seat on the commission is under litigation because officials removed a Navajo candidate from the ballot saying he was not a resident.

Meanwhile, votes are still being counted in Colorado for the Democratic Party's attorney general nomination. Joseph Salazar, Apache, trails the frontrunner, but there are more than 30,000 votes to count so the race is still too close to call.

A correction. Tuesday night I checked Oklahoma’s Secretary of State page at 3 am and then boarded an all day flight. When I looked it showed that Ashley McCraw was winning by a margin of 58 percent (and even more damning, said all precincts had reported in). But a day later when I checked in that margin had shrunk to 49 percent. McCray just missed. She will now face voters again in August.

Also in Oklahoma, Kevin Stitt, Cherokee, had a late night surge and won enough votes to enter the August runoff. The conservative business leader does not address tribal issues in his campaign site or in his biography.

#NativeVote18: Native candidates for statewide office | Native candidates for federal office

This election season continues to be remarkable for #NativeVote18. Oklahoma was a good example of that: There are still four active Native American candidates running for Congress. Two Democrats and two Republicans, both incumbents.

Both the Republicans, Rep. Tom Cole, Chickasaw, and Rep. Markwayne Mullin, Cherokee, earned enough votes to avoid the runoff. And the two Democrats, Jason Nichols, Cherokee, and Amanda Douglas, Cherokee, will face votes again. But this late in the process to have four active candidates in one state says a lot about the potential ahead.

Nichols was the top vote getter in the first round and if he can do that again the 2nd district will feature two tribal citizens on both sides of the ballot, one a Democrat, and one a Republican, Mullin.

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter @TrahantReports His email is

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