Willie Grayeyes, Chairperson, Utah Diné Bikéyah
Thank you, Congressman Bishop, for organizing this event and your efforts to assist in our land planning. We have met with many of the organizations here comparing maps and ideas. It is an honor to be included in this very important planning and we thank you for working with us.
Contrary to the beliefs of many, southeastern Utah was not an empty place waiting to be inhabited by settlers or discovered as a playground for recreationists, but rather it has been and will remains a part of our homeland in this country. Our history with European settlers has not been a positive experience, to say the very least. Our great-grandmothers and grandfathers were forced marched from these lands; their hogans burned and so many of our people died. Unfortunately, it did not end there. My brothers here around me, as well as myself, were forced into federal boarding schools, where attempts were made to change our character by taking our language and customs from our young spirits, minds, and bodies. Today, we come hoping that a time of healing is possibly upon us. A time of healing created by this land planning and our own Diné Bikéyah National Conservation Area.
We have long been observers in the debate over public lands in Utah. This is not because we do not care, but simply, no one ever asked us. As you are aware, San Juan County possesses some of the largest contiguous wilderness in the western United States and a large percentage of the Utah State Trust Lands. What many may not know is that the Navajo Reservation covers over 20% of San Juan County land base; Navajo population measures over half and we have never stopped using these public lands for hunting, gathering and our ceremonial practices.
To summarize or actions to date — In response to Senator Bennett’s 2010 land planning efforts, we the Utah Diné Bikéyah and the Navajo Nation decided it was time for us to be involved. Our actions surprised some, those that did not think of Navajos as being citizens or using and caring for public lands. Over the following two or more years, we interviewed our elderly people to identify areas of important and interest for our cultural practices, our very subsistence gathering areas and for wildlife habitats. The resulting maps, we combined to create the boundaries of the Diné Bikéyah National Conservation Area.
At the end of 2012, the Navajo Nation and the San Juan County Commission entered into an agreement to participate in land planning. Since that time, regular meetings have occurred, as had field trips and attended public meetings. In some of the public meetings, we were subjected to what can only be described as the ugliness of racism and we have to date identified little common interests with the County Commissioners, but we have hope and continue to strive to better understand one another.
The Diné Bikéyah National Conservation Area is 1.9 million acres of BLM and USFS public lands. Our proposal also identifies areas for wilderness designation both within and outside the NCA, as well as a road network system throughout the public lands in San Juan County. In 2013, the Diné Bikéyah National Conservation Area was presented to San Juan County, as well as to Congressman Rob Bishop’s staff, as the official land-use position of the Navajo Nation and Utah Diné Bikéyah.
Most recently, spurred by the lack of consideration in the BLM Resource Management Plan to protect our cultural resources, we have also started discussions with the Department of Interior to formalize a process to create a co-management agreement between the BLM and the Navajo Nation within the NCA boundaries. Also, this spring we will be traveling to Washington DC to meet with other agencies and members of President Obama’s staff.
From Utah Diné Bikéyah (the Utah Peoples Land) we receive healing and nourishment for our spiritual and psychological wellness, likewise, for our physiological and sociological well-beings. Utah Diné Bikéyah and Utah Navajos people hold many memories of our forefather’s footprints on this region as Native people, to whom we raise respect and offer our thanks of prayers. Once again, we ask for your help in protecting these lands, whereby, we may continue our healing process by continue to exercise our belief and practices without interruption as we teach our children for generations to come. Thank you.