Navajo Utah Commission talks Bears Ears land management plan, Native American summit

Members of the Navajo Utah Commission (NUC) heard from the Utah Division of Indian Affairs, discussed the Bears Ears National Monument Management Plan and heard from Republican candidates for office at their latest meeting.

At their July 12 meeting members of the NUC heard from Richard Begay, department manager of the Navajo Nation Heritage & Historic Preservation Department, regarding the Bears Ears National Monument’s land management plan.

Part of the executive order that established the monument, also called for the development of a join-use management plan with input from five tribes with historic ties to the area including the Navajo Nation, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, the Hopi Tribe and the Pueblo of Zuni. 

On June 18, 2022 members of the Bears Ears Intertribal Commission, made up of representatives from the five tribes, as well as the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) signed a co-management agreement for the monument.

A key part of that co-management is the submission of information from the tribes for a land use management plan.

Members of the Bears Ears Inter-tribal Coalition, a nonprofit group with some extension of tribal sovereign authority, raised funds to create a land use management plan. The plans will then be given to the Bears Ears intertribal commission, which interfaces with the Forest Service and BLM.

Begay explained that each of the five tribes created a land management plan to identify cultural resources in the area, Navajo representatives contracted with Dinétahdóó Cultural Resources Management  to create their plan.
The land management plan included interviews with over 30 residents from Navajo Utah Chapters and highlighted key items including locations in the monument of old homesites, corals, hogans, sweat lodges, historic and ceremonial trails, hunting, plant and firewood gathering locations.

Begay noted previously many Navajos lived within the monument especially on Cedar Mesa.

“A lot of people say that Manuelito was born up there but I always remind people that Manuelito left and Navajo people continued to live up there. Hundreds if not thousands upon thousands of people lived in that area before Utah became a state, before Navajos were chased out of there.  There’s still lots of Navajo history up there, we only collected a little bit of that.”

After each tribe created information for a land management plan Woods Canyon Archaeological Consultants of Cortez was hired to combine all the plans into one document. That document has since been approved by four of the five tribes' representative bodies.

The Navajo Nation Council is in the process of approving the plan with Herman Daniels sponsoring the legislation.

Once approved the intertribal commission will bring the draft to the Forest Service and BLM as the federal agencies continue their work to develop the land management plan for the monument. 

County, state and other representatives will also be able to weigh in on the creation of the land management plan via the Bears Ears Advisory committee.

Members of the Navajo Utah Commission also heard from the Utah Division of Indian Affairs.

Division Program Manager James Toledo reported on the upcoming 16th annual Native American Summit happening on July 28 at the University of Utah. The free state sponsored summit will feature breakout sessions focused on education, physical and mental health, cultural preservation, economic development and civic engagement.

At their meeting members of the NUC passed a resolution identifying Navajo Utah priorities for collaboration with the state of Utah. 

Among the identified priorities were Utah Equal Legislation, Navajo Mountain Oljato Road EIS study, Westwater residential utility expansion, education/broadband, health, and domestic violence response.

Division Director Dustin Jansen also reported on state and tribal relations highlighting their combined efforts along with the city of Blanding to bring power and water utilities to Westwater community, located on off-reservation land owned by the Navajo Nation.

“Funding from the Navajo Nation has come through on covering a lot of costs of what it’ll take to bring water in, so we’re very happy about that. The community of Westwater, both the Navajo Nation and state of Utah citizens there, are receiving the utilities that are going to help make their lives a little bit easier.”

Jansen also reported on a recent ruling from the United States Supreme Court in the case of Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta. The ruling authorizes state governments to exercise criminal jurisdiction when a non-Indian commits a crime against an Indian in Indian country.

“That’s not what the practice has been for the last 190 years. Usually, the federal government has jurisdiction to prosecute that. In this case the federal government still has jurisdiction to prosecute that but also the state have what they call concurrent jurisdiction they can also bring charges.”

Jansen reported that the state of Utah is contacting counties to make sure the court opinion is understood correctly. Jansen also reported that he and special Counsel Larry Echohawk are also making appointments with tribal leaders, including the Navajo Nation Attorney General to discuss what the case means for tribal nations and to help create a plan for how the state should move forward.

Members of the Navajo Utah Commission again expressed a desire to create a state of Utah Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) ahead of another Supreme Court Decision expected in 2023.

The supreme court is scheduled to hear arguments in the case of Haaland v. Brackeen which challenges the constitutionality of the act. ICWA among other things, establishes a preference that Native American children removed from their homes be placed in Native American homes.

On July 12 the commission also heard from Republican candidates for San Juan County offices. 

Candidate Jamie Harvey of Montezuma Creek is running for commission district three, Harvey introduced himself, his platform and his fellow candidates in Navajo.

Fellow Republican candidate for commission district two Sylvia Stubbs shared her background and contact information with the commission “I believe San Juan County has a bright future, I’m a believer of creating and using opportunities to help people lift themselves up.”

Republican candidate for county Attorney Alex Goble also spoke to the commission. While listening to the meeting he said he saw many opportunities for collaboration including with policing, the monument and water. 

“Jamie (Harvey) reached out to me several months ago in regards to trying to get a memorandum of understanding for the women’s shelter put in place and we’ve made really good progress on that. Most of these opportunities are available it's simply finding the right voices to make the things happen that need to happen.”

NUC member Curtis Yanito shared that it was important that the commission and county have a good working relationship no matter which party wins in November.

“As far as the party goes just keep in mind that if you win, let's all work together in a positive way.”

The commission also heard an update on the passing of legislation for $1 billion in ARPA funding for projects across the Navajo Nation. The legislation was signed by President Jonathan Nez on July 15.

At the meeting the commission also passed two other resolutions. One requesting that the Navajo Nation Division of Transportation appropriate $1.7 million from NNDOT’s budget to comply with proposed amendments to the Nation and San Juan County’s intergovernmental agreement to provide road maintenance for Utah Chapters.

The commission also passed a resolution asking for an appropriation of $9,795 for unmet needs in the NUC’s operating budget.

Staff and members of the commission also offered their thanks to outgoing Navajo Utah Commission staff member Laticia John. John shared her gratitude for her work with the commission and shared that she is stepping away to pursue higher education opportunities.

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