Heated Exchanges as Utah Lawmakers
Lawmakers and Tribal Leaders share strong words as the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands seek authority to shrink Bears Ears.
In the midst of public outcry and protest, the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Federal Lands held a Legislative Hearing Tuesday on H.R. 4532, the Shash Jáa National Monument and Indian Creek National Monument Act. The bill would codify— or work to orchestrate through legislation— the recent executive action that reduced the Bears Ears National Monument.
The Utah-led congressional action is openly pushing H.R. 4532, sponsored by Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah a bill that would put into law a reduction in the Bears Ears monument boundaries as previously ordered by President Trump. Many of the members of the Tribes of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition were present to testify against legislation that would reduce the monuments.
The H.R. 4532 bill, which describes the creation of new management councils and funding for law-enforcement for the Shash Jáa (Bears Ears) and Indian Creek monuments has drawn massive criticism from tribes and environmental groups as nothing more than a ‘bait and switch’ tactic that only seeks to eliminate Bears Ears.
As per a presidential proclamation introduced by President Trump, the Bears Ears National Monument was decreased by 85% removing protections from 1,148,000 acres. The Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument was reduced by 47% removing protections from 896,000 acres. With the two presidential proclamations, national monument protections were removed from over 2 million acres of land.
Shaun Chapoose, a member of the Ute Indian Tribe and Utah Business Committee member told Indian Country Today in an email that Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, the chairman of the Natural Resources Committee pushing Curtis’ bill, is attempting to use H.R. 4532 to legislatively approve President Trump’s illegal action rescinding the Bears Ears National Monument.
“Congressman Bishop’s contempt for the United States government-to-government relationship with Indian tribes and the legislative process in his own Committee was on full display during the hearing,” wrote Chapoose.
“Instead of negotiating with the area’s federally recognized tribal governments, Congressman Bishop is cherry picking tribal members to support H.R. 4532. This is a shameful return to the 1800’s. It is up to sovereign tribal governments, not the United States, to select our own representatives.”
During the testimony Utah republicans traded words with tribal members that many times appeared filled with tension. In one exchange Shaun Chapoose referred to a photograph as evidence. When Chapoose referred to a different area than the photo, Bishop blurted out, “Do you know where fish creek actually is?”
Chapoose said the subcommittee members weren’t interested in tribal testimonies.
“Congressman Bishop and Subcommittee Republicans did not want to hear from the sovereign tribal governments that would be most affected by H.R. 4532. Instead, they forced our five Coalition tribes onto one witness chair while every level of the State of Utah was there,” wrote Chapoose.
“Unfortunately, it was an orchestrated attempt to undermine and diminish tribes and tribal sovereignty led by Congressman Bishop with support from Subcommittee Members who continually allowed Bishop to use their time. When I gave Bishop answers he didn’t want to hear he said I was wrong, but I wasn’t allowed to rebut. We knew they would do this, but it was important for the Coalition to appear and speak out strongly against the bill.”
Livestreamed video from the House Committee on Natural Resources
Legislative Hearing H.R. 4532 – January 9, 2018
The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) released a statement on Tuesday stating they “oppose President Trump’s efforts to reduce two monuments that hold tribal sacred places and that they stand by the efforts of all affected Tribal governments and local communities who are determined to protect these sacred places in their entirety.”
NCAI President Jefferson Keel also said he and the NCAI stand with the Tribes of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition as well as any tribes impacted by other monument designations.
“The original intent of the Antiquities Act was to protect our tribal sacred sites and the cultural objects in those sites,” said Keel in an NCAI release. “The history of our indigenous ancestors lives in these sacred places. The actions to reduce Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante endangers our freedom of religion, our histories and our communities.”
The NCAI has also published resolutions in support of national monument designations which are available for public viewing here: EC-15-002, MOH-17-006 andMKE-17-057. The NCAI also submitted comments to the Department of the Interior here.
Chapoose told Indian Country Today that he and other members of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition will continue to fight against the Utah Republican-led effort and President Trump’s prior presidential proclamations.
“We will continue to oppose this bill and stop it from passing Congress. This bill should not move forward while we are challenging the President’s action dismantling Bears Ears in Court. Congressman Bishop and Curtis say that this bill is separate from the President’s action. That’s not true. They are trying to legislatively confirm the President’s action and know that the President’s action was unlawful. They are rushing this legislative effort through to try and provide him cover,” said Chapoose.
“Congressman Bishop is still fighting for his Utah Public Lands Initiative that died in the last Congress. He may be Chairman of the Committee, but he cannot write his own version of history, determine our religion or our cultural identity. We are sovereign tribal governments and the U.S. Constitution defined our exclusive relationship with the United States long before he became a Congressman.”
Indian Country Today’s Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter Follow