The federal government says a U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) news release found on the Navajo Reservation in Utah stating that President Obama was going to reduce the size of the Navajo Nation is unequivocally false.
“It has been brought to our attention that an inauthentic news release has been circulating around the Navajo Nation. This was not sent out from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs or from the U.S. Department of Interior,” a DOI spokesperson told Indian Country Today Media Network on Friday June 10.
Interior has been refuting such false assertions since copies of a March-dated DOI news release were discovered at the end of May posted in gas stations and the post office in Bluff and Mexican Hat, areas near the proposed Bears Ears national monument. Many Navajos in the area support and were active in creating the proposal to protect 1.9 million acres that they say is sacred and contains more than 100,000 archeological sites. The land is being managed by the federal government but is largely unprotected.
The inauthentic news release falsely quoted Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in saying that since many Navajos no longer live on the reservation’s 4.15 million acres of Navajo land in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, a large chunk of it would “revert to the Bureau of Land Management jurisdiction. It will no longer be part of the Navajo Reservation. The land will be available for grazing permits and mineral claims by citizens or companies.”
But the President has “no intention of reducing the size of the Navajo Reservation,” a DOI spokesperson said. “The Secretary of the Interior is still committed to placing 500,000 acres of land into trust nationwide by the end of President Obama's term.”
Gavin Noyes, executive director of the Utah Diné Bikéyah, a nonprofit organization that helped create the monument proposal, said this news release and other fake fliers, including one that invited people to a Diné Bikéyah party with Jewell and Obama to celebrate the monument designation but specifically excluding Utah Navajos, were designed to confuse and intimidate local Native residents.
“I don’t know who would think it was a good idea to go out to take these actions,” Noyes said. “Our main concern is to make people know that these letters aren’t true. A monument designation wouldn’t do the things that they say. No one is talking about reducing the size of the reservation.”
Among the false documents were fliers announcing open hunting season on Colorado backpackers in Utah’s San Juan County and a letter from the Oljato Chapter House’s vice president asking Utah and national leaders not to support the monument proposal because it would ban firewood gathering and access for religious activities.
Six out of seven Utah Navajo Chapter Houses have passed resolutions in support of the monument proposal. The Navajos who oppose the measure, including a San Juan County commissioner, worry about having access to firewood and medicinal plants under such a federal designation.
The proposal has also riled some area non-Native Americans, ranchers and business owners, and state lawmakers concerned about grazing and natural resource development restrictions.
Last year, five tribes—Hopi, Zuñi, Ute Mountain Ute, Uinta-Ouray Ute and the Navajo Nation—formally asked Obama to designate the area as a national monument under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which gives the President pen power to create such monuments on federal lands.
On June 9, the Utah Tribal Leaders association passed a formal resolution supporting the proposal. Representatives from seven of Utah’s eight tribes—the Confederated Tribes of Goshute, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute, Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, Northwestern Band of Shoshone Nation, Skull Valley Band of Goshute and the Confederate Tribes of Goshute—supported the resolution that calls for Obama to designate the area as a monument and “reflects the will and values of Native peoples whose identities, histories, cultures, and futures are inextricably tied to these lands.”
The Ute Tribe of the Uinta Ouray Reservation was not present, but supports the issue as a formal member of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, according to a Utah Diné Bikéyah news release.
The Utah leaders join the 25 tribes in a four-state area near Bears Ears and the National Congress of American Indians.