‘When we speak, people listen’: Delegates support bills on climate change, wilderness act


America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act would protect western landscapes such as Cedar Mesa, Shash Jaa’, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and the Kaiparowits Plateau in Grand Staircase-Escalante.

The visionary legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1989 by then Utah Rep. Wayne Owens.

The act would protect more than 8 million acres of land around the state of Utah. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., in May reintroduced it in Congress.

Durbin said public lands are under increasing pressure to be developed or sold off. This act would protect them while also helping slow climate change.

The act would designate parts of land all over Utah as wilderness, including swaths of southeastern, eastern and western Utah. All the land designated under Durbin’s bill is already managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The land is home to numerous rare plant and animal species.

Durbin argues that the designation is needed because the land is threatened by oil, gas, tar sands development, and rampant off-road vehicles that cause damage.

Durbin’s bill was introduced recently as legislation to the Resources and Development and the Naabik’íyáti committees, and to the Navajo Nation Council. The legislation is sponsored by Delegate Herman Daniels Jr., who represents Naatsis’áán, Ooljéé’tó-Tsébii’ndzisgaii, Shonto, and Ts’ahbiikin.

Daniels’ legislation, a first for the Nation, supports the act to protect 8.4 million acres of land rich in archaeological resources. The legislation was unanimously passed by a vote of 21 delegates.

This legislation enhances the Bears Ears National Monument, said Mark Maryboy of Montezuma Creek, Utah.

Maryboy is on the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance board. He worked on this bill directly with seven chapters: Red Mesa, Teec Nos Pos, Oljato-Monument Valley, Dennehotso, Beclabito, Mexican Water, and Navajo Mountain.

The seven chapters are the first to endorse the act, said Maryboy.

“But it takes it further than that and it talks about climate crisis,” Maryboy said in an interview with the Navajo Times. “It’s an initiative that’s being carried by President Joe Biden.”

Biden’s land and water conservation plan, the “America the Beautiful” Initiative, highlights locally driven initiatives, tribal sovereignty, job creation, respect for private property rights and reliance on science.

Biden’s plan aims to protect 30% of the country’s lands and waters by 2030, better known as “30 by 30.”

“He wants to reduce carbon emission by 30 percent by the year 2030,” Maryboy explained. “We’re in a position as Native Americans to begin talking about protecting biodiversity and mitigating the climate crisis.

“We live in a special area – from the Grand Canyon to Alaska,” he said. “It’s 6,000 miles, lifeline of connected wildlife. That needs to be protected. The act accounts for 1.5 percent of the remaining land that needs to conserve to reach the goal of 30 percent by 2030.”

Maryboy said this includes the Shash Jaa’ region, which needs to remain protected.

“In these areas, you’ll find mule deer, pronghorn, antelope, big horn sheep, elk, black bears, wolves, and mountain lions,” Maryboy added.

America is back

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and nearly two dozen House Democrats talked global climate last Tuesday, claiming that “America is back” to the effort to slow global warming.

The Democrats are divided over a $1.85 trillion budget – including $555 billion in tax credits and incentives to promote wind and solar power, electric vehicles, climate-friendly agriculture, and forestry programs, among a list of other clean energy programs – upon which their climate agenda depends.

This would bring the country close to Biden’s goal of cutting the greenhouse gas emissions by 50% to 52% from 2005 levels by 2030.

Maryboy said Diné elders in Utah Navajo are concerned about climate change altering the Earth’s snow- and ice-covered areas because snow and ice can easily change between solid and liquid states in response to minor changes in temperatures.

“And they are concerned about the (San Juan and the Colorado rivers), the drought,” Maryboy said. “That could disappear if climate change is not addressed. These are the (elders from) the Utah Navajo chapters.”

Maryboy added that elders in the Naatsis’áán Chapter explained that hataałii in the early 1800s met with Haashch’ééłt’í, a Diyin Dine’é that lived on the mountains and could travel by following the path of nááts’íílid and the rays of jóhonaa’éí.

Haashch’ééłt’í foretold that Diné would need to fight against climate change as there would be catastrophic changes in the future, such as drought and weather patterns, affecting Diné life.

This was before Lake Powell was created, said Maryboy.

“The (Diné) back then were told, if this isn’t addressed, great, great problems would occur for humankind,” Maryboy added. “Those problems they talked about are now occurring.

“Native Americans, they have a tremendous influence when it comes to climate – Mother Earth,” he said. “I’d like to see more and more speaking out (on climate change).

“We’re just a fraction of the population,” he said. “But when we speak, people listen – just like Bears Ears. That’s the kind of influence (Natives) have.”

About The Author

Krista Allen

Krista Allen is editor of the Navajo Times.


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