Congressional bill would formalize Bears Ears changes
A bill to formalize the creation of Bears Ears National Monument has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman John Curtis.
Curtis states that House Resolution 4532 would create the first tribally-managed national monument. The bill would create a clear management role for tribes in the monument, rather than the advisory role currently set for the tribal groups involved with the monument.
President Barack Obama used the Antiquities Act to create the national monument in December, 2016, while President Donald Trump used the same act to shrink the monument in December, 2017.
The initial monument was 1.35-million acres. It was shrunk by 85 percent by Trump.
The current bill, if passed and signed into law, would use the legislative process to formalize the national monument.
The bill was formally introduced by Rep. Curtis on January 9.
Four people testified on the bill, including Utah Governor Gary Herbert, Bears Ears Commissioner Shaun Chapoose, Matt Anderson of the Sutherland Institute, and San Juan County resident Suzette Morris, of White Mesa.
Shaun Chapoose, who is a member of the Bears Ears Commission and was previously involved with the Inter-Tribal Coalition, strongly opposes the bill.
Chapoose said the bill “pours salt on the wound” that was created when Trump shrunk the monument.
Chapoose stated that the tribes had not been consulted by the Trump Administration and added, “Speaking with an individual tribal member is not government-to-government consultation.”
Chapoose also added that the bill “elevates state and county representatives above federally recognized tribes.”
Suzette Morris, a member of Ute Mountain Tribe and Vice President of the Stewards of San Juan County, said, “No one cares for the land more than we do… The people who live closest to the land love the land the most.”
Morris adds that the bill, “Finally empowers the voices who have been silenced in this debate, the voices of the local tribes who actually live in San Juan County.
“By creating the first ever tribal management council, you are empowering local Native American people with real authority to manage the land of their ancestors.”
Morris said the initial designation by Obama, “didn’t mention tribal management, it only created an advisory committee that had no real power over the land.”
Morris filled in at the last minute for San Juan Commissioner Rebecca Benally, who was unable to attend.
A statement from Commissioner Benally said, “By supporting H.R. 4532, you are listening to a group that has been silenced for too long and finally allowing us a seat at that table.
“We all come from different backgrounds, but we want the same results. We want land that is well managed, protected and accessible to all people.”
After the hearing, San Juan County issued a statement in support of the bill.
The statement said, “Today, members of our community testified in favor of H.R. 4532. This legislation would create the first tribally-managed national monument in San Juan County.”
The statement adds that the bill is “a measure that celebrates diversity and promotes new ideas and solutions.”
The San Juan County statement thanked Congressman Curtis and the Utah delegation “for putting forward this thoughtful legislation.”
The statement closed by stating, “We look forward to this new step of local collaboration.”
In separate statements, San Juan County Comissioner Phil Lyman has expressed concern about the new bill, stating he opposes several provisions in the current bill.
An in-depth analysis of the new bill will be provided by the San Juan Record at a later time.