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Policy & Government

Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition threatens to sue Trump

Trump's executive order reviewing monuments is a thinly veiled attack against Bears Ears, tribal leaders say.

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Leaders from the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition called Trump’s national monument review a thinly veiled attack on the monument.

The Bears Ears Buttes in summertime.
The Bears Ears Buttes in summertime. // Photo: Tim PetersonTim Peterson

If President Donald Trump tries to rescind the protected status of Bears Ears National Monument, he’ll be hit with a lawsuit to the fullest extent possible, leaders from the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition said Wednesday morning, at a press conference in Washington, D.C.

The governments of the tribes in the Coalition all support the monument, said Carleton Bowekaty, co-chair of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition and Pueblo of Zuni Tribal Councilman, in spite of disagreement from a few individuals who have been outspoken in the media.

Members of Utah’s congressional delegation, as well as Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, have repeatedly said that they do not support the monument designation largely because of opposition from Native Americans who live in San Juan County and the surrounding area, where former President Barack Obama designated 1.3 million acres.

“The Navajo Nation has a clear position on Bears Ears National Monument,” LoRenzo Bates, of the Navajo Nation Council, said. “As indicated, there is unanimous support. But by cherrypicking a few Navajo people from San Juan County, you are undermining… the position of the Navajo government.”

Each member of each tribe is free to express their own opinion, Bowekaty said. But individuals’ opinions do not represent the official positions of their tribal governments.

The monument is on sacred land, and the designation is vital to the protection of ancestral territory and history, leaders said Wednesday. But it’s about more than that. It’s also about trust and betrayal on behalf of the United States government.

“The Trump Administration says he will put America first,” said Robert Holden, deputy director of the National Congress of American Indians. “Today, we urge the administration to work with the first Americans, who have been here.”

Since George Washington made promises to Native Americans that he would protect their land and ways of life, Holden said, more than 100 treaties have been broken by the U.S. government. “This is the time to stand fast with these promises, to change the past. To go forward, to work with our people to help us protect and preserve our national resources.”

Shaun Chapoose, Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee Chairman, said they were hopeful when Zinke was sworn in as Secretary of the Interior, but he has yet to meet with tribal leaders despite repeated meeting requests. Instead, he has met with congressmen from the state of Utah.

“The way we’re going to fight,” Chapoose said, “is we’re going to go to court.”