Guest editorial: Bears Ears reduction is attempt to silence Indian voices
Director, Ute Indian Tribe Political Action Committee
This coming Tuesday, December 12th, the Ute Indian Tribe Political Action Committee (Ute PAC) will be holding a public meeting at the Park City Library, 1255 Park Ave Room #301, at 6:30 pm. Ute PAC was chartered by the Business Committee of the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation (Ute Tribe) in the summer of 2016 to fight the attempt by Congressmen Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz to steal over 100,000 acres of Ute Tribe land through the Utah Public Lands Initiative (PLI). Buried within the details of the PLI was an additional sneaky proposal to turn over the “management” of Indian trust lands to non-federal control, breaking the trust obligations in federal-tribal relations. Despite repeatedly being told by federal courts and tribal leaders that these reservation and trust lands were under sovereign control of the Ute Indian Tribe and the U.S. Federal Government through treaty and trust obligations, Rob Bishop and various Utah state and local officials chose to ignore these Constitutional and legal realities. The PLI failed in 2016, but with the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States, Bears Ears became their next attempt to both undermine tribal sovereignty and silence Indian voices.
The Ute Tribe is one of the five tribes that comprise the Inter-Tribal Coalition on Bears Ears, a historic alliance of tribes that fought to get the establishment of the Bears Ears National Monument. On December 28th 2016, after the abysmal failure of the Bishop/Chaffetz PLI, President Obama used the Antiquities Act to declare the Bears Ears National Monument. This past Monday, President Trump visited Salt Lake City and issued proclamations announcing five balkanized, “mini-monuments” to ostensibly nullify and replace the Grand Staircase-Escalante and the Bears Ears monuments. Later that same day, the five tribes filed a lawsuit in federal court to challenge the legality of the new monuments, arguing that the existing monuments be retained over the new, illegal creations.
“The proposal to shrink the Monument will leave hundreds of thousands of antiquities, archeological sites and cultural resources unprotected and eviscerate the years of collaborative work that was undertaken by the members of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition”, states the press release issued moments after Trump’s announcement on Monday. It goes on to say that the purpose of Bears Ears was “to establish a monument that recognizes the unique cultural and spiritual contributions that Native peoples have made to the history of this great Nation”. In the aftermath of the actions by Trump, Americans from all over the continent have contacted Ute PAC to express their profound displeasure with the President’s actions, one person from the Great Lakes region realizing, “there’s no more Indian land like that over here.”
And that’s the point. The Inter-Tribal Coalition on Bears Ears seeks to save what is to Natives a living landscape; to non-Natives, it’s one of the most unique windows into the past on the entire planet. Monuments under the Antiquities Act were designed to be such living museums. The Ute Tribe’s press release also noted: ‘“The President promised to drain the swamp,” said Luke Duncan Chairman of the Ute Indian Tribal Business Committee, “but with this unilateral action at the request of a few powerful Utah politicians the swamp is only getting deeper.” Chairman Duncan continued, “We refuse to become the forgotten people of this land and the President should recognize and respect our voice in this matter as the first Utahns.”’
Robert Lucero is the founder and director of Ute PAC. He can be reached at email@example.com.