Op-ed: Why the Public Lands Initiative failed American Indians in San Juan County
By Willie Grayeyes, The Salt Lake Tribune, Feb 17, 2016
The op-ed by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (“PLI gives tribes more of what they want in Bears Ears,” Feb. 7) demonstrated exactly why Native Americans have been failed by the Public Lands Initiative and by members of Congress who continue to tell us they know what is best for tribes.
While it is disappointing that Chaffetz and Rep. Rob Bishop ignored the Bears Ears conservation proposal developed by their own constituents and tribal governments, it is far more insulting that they now argue it is good for tribes.
Utah Diné Bikéyah is a grassroots Native American nonprofit that created the Bears Ears proposal and has engaged with Chaffetz’s office at every step of the PLI. We are saddened that after the effort and ambition that went into trying to resolve entrenched land-use challenges in Utah, the result is a widely disdained proposal that has little or no chance of passing Congress.
The premise of Chaffetz’s hollow argument is instructive as to the roots of this failure. Chaffetz presumes a Bears Ears National Monument signed into law by President Obama would require management of the area by the National Park Service and that management would disregard tribes’ concerns. Had he read our detailed proposal that we hand-delivered to him, he would know that the five tribes of the Inter-Tribal Coalition are asking for a national monument managed by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service. Our proposal gives tribes a seat at the table in management decisions to avoid the kind of past conflicts that have occurred. In fact, many of President Obama’s national monuments are managed by the BLM and Forest Service and explicitly guarantee Native American access for gathering and traditional uses.
Just as alarming is Chaffetz’s claim that the PLI proposal to transfer Native American sacred sites and tribal reservation lands to the state of Utah for development is “good” for tribes. These are our ancestral lands and our reservations, which are to be held in “trust” by the federal government. The PLI would throw all trust out the door and transfer tribal lands to oil and gas developers.