Guest Column: Attack on one tribe’s sovereignty is an attack on all tribes’ sovereignty

Davis Filfred

Davis Filfred

By Davis Filfred

Native American people must join together in unity and speak with one voice as we look to protect our lands, languages, and cultural resources for future generations. As Navajo citizens, we are standing together with the Standing Rock Sioux to protect their sacred lands and we must stand with each other here at home to protect our sacred lands in the Bears Ears region.

I represent Utah Navajo people on the Utah Tribal Leaders Association and as the Navajo Nation Council Delegate for the Aneth, Red Mesa, Teec Nos Pos, and Tolikan Chapters. I also serve as one of three official Navajo Nation representatives on the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition with the Hopi, Zuni, Ute Mountain, and Uinta Ouray Ute Tribes. As such, I am asking for all Native people to stand with me this week and in the coming months as Congress and President Obama discuss our Tribal proposal to protect Bears Ears.

There is a Congressional hearing on Sept. 14 in Washington, D.C. regarding Native American ancestral lands in Utah. The bill called the Public Lands Initiative undermines tribal sovereignty and at the same time it provides too little protection for the Bears Ears region. Regarding tribal sovereignty, there is one sentence buried on page 189 (http://www.utahpli.com/) that will take oil and gas revenues from the Navajo Nation and turn them over to a State of Utah administered trust fund. This is a public lands bill that has no business interfering with Navajo Nation affairs or disrespecting our ability to govern ourselves.

Utah Congressional Representatives Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz have touted the Public Lands Initiative as a grand bargain that will end controversy between a multitude of public lands stakeholders in eastern Utah. What the bill does instead is make clear that the Utah delegation does not respect tribes, the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition proposal, or the land itself.

The PLI also significantly affects our Ute brothers and sisters to the north in Uintah County, Utah. The PLI proposes to transfer 100,000 acres of disputed Ute reservation lands (former Uncompahgre Reservation) to the state of Utah. Currently, the BLM manages these lands, but the tribe has challenged federal title on these lands. The Ute asked that Congressman Bishop return this reservation that was never disestablished to the Tribe. Neither the trust fund nor the Uncompahgre reservation lands should be included in Congressman Bishop’s public lands bill and as Indian people we must stand together to say “No” to the PLI.

During the PLI public process, Native Americans in San Juan County were the first to submit a proposal to San Juan County and to Congressman Bishop in April 2013, yet it was ignored by all parties. Even after 64 percent of the local public voiced support for it at the public comment session, county officials told Native people that we do not know how to think for ourselves and replaced our plan with their plan. Today, for the first time in the history of the United States, a coalition of tribes has asked for a monument designation to protect our heritage, resources, and access to public lands. In stark contrast to Congressman Bishop, through government-to-government consultation, the Obama Administration has listened to tribal concerns about our indigenous and local land ties to public lands and we are working together to turn a page in history.

Our Navajo Nation President and Vice President went to Standing Rock to show solidarity for Native American tribes opposing the North Dakota Access Pipeline. They are also standing strong with Native elders in Utah, and with the Hopi, Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute, and Uinta Ouray Ute who are asking with one voice that Bears Ears receive the protection it deserves. We recognize that an attack on one tribe’s sovereignty is an attack on all tribes’ sovereignty.

For this reason, I will be in Washington, D.C. next week, opposing the PLI and I will be standing beside our allies, the Ute Mountain Ute, the Zuni, the Uinta Ouray Ute, and the Hopi. Please stand with me, wherever you are. Let us speak with one voice, as we ask President Obama to protect Bears Ears for future generations.

Davis Filfred is a Navajo Nation Council delegate representing Mexican Water, Aneth, Teec Nos Pos, Tolikan and Red Mesa chapters.


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Categories: Guest Essay