Native Americans feel left out of planning process for Bear’s Ear region in southeastern Utah

Aug. 5 letter outlines tribal concerns

Dine_Bikeyah_NCA
Native Americans are seeking meaningful protection for the culturally and environmentally important Bear’s Ear area in southeastern Utah.

Staff Report

FRISCO — A coalition of Native Americans say they’re “concerned at the lack of involvement of Tribes” in the current efforts to create a protective designation for the Bear’s Ear area in southeastern Utah’s San Juan County. The Native Americans say that, despite two years of dialogue with local stakeholders, San Juan County officials have failed to “reach out to, consult, and respond to feedback from Tribes within or outside of Utah.”

The concerns were expressed in an Aug. 5 letter from Diné Bikéyah — the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition — to Utah congressmen Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, and highlights the complex tangle of issues surrounding several different land-protection proposals for the area, with some Native American tribes seeking a federal designation, while the strong local-control movement in Utah explores different alternatives.

The Salt Lake Tribune explained some of the maneuvering in an April 19 story, describing how the area is culturally important to nearly all Native Americans in the region.

In the Aug. 5 letter, the coalition explains that elected officials from the Navajo Nation, Hopi, Zuni, and Ute Mountain Ute Tribes met on June 30th and July 16th to discuss the proposed Bears Ears National Conservation Area/ National Monument plans.

“We are aware that San Juan County advanced a proposal to your office and despite multiple attempts to work with San Juan County and your offices over recent years, we are concerned about how Tribes and the Bears Ears proposal are being considered in your legislative process,” the coalition wrote to Bishop and Chaffetz.

The coalition is requesting the engagement of tribes outside Utah in the discussion of the legislation and wants a designation to make conservation, including a full mineral withdrawal, the primary purpose, while allowing traditional Native American uses to continue.

The Native American coalition’s proposal is the largest on the table, covering 1.9 million acres stretching from the southern edge of Canyonlands National Park to the San Juan River and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in the south to approximately U.S. Highway 191 on the east and the Colorado River on the west.

The letter says that, despite involvement by local Native Americans, San Juan County’s proposal ignores tribal input.

“Worse still, Tribes from outside of Utah have been afforded no opportunity to provide feedback or engage in the process. In order for Tribes to consider supporting any legislation that affects our ancestral lands, we must first be engaged. We invite you to present at one of the monthly Inter-tribal Coalition meetings so that we can meet elected official to elected official, or we can schedule a separate time,” the letter continues.

Due to the lack of inclusion the local planning efforts, the inter-tribal coalition has reached out to federal agencies about Native American conservation desires for the region.

The letter:

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