Tribes push back on state’s efforts to sue over Bears Ears order

Dec 2, 2021, 11:06 PM | Updated: 11:35 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Tribal leaders, conservationists and friends gathered beneath the Capitol rotunda Thursday to protest state leaders’ efforts to challenge President Joe Biden’s executive order restoring Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.

It’s a familiar setting and the message hasn’t changed much over the years.

Speakers praised President Biden’s recent decision expanding the two national monuments, and then turned their attention to state leaders.

“We call on Utah’s leaders — and especially Utah’s governor — to work with us to protect these lands,” said Timothy Nuvangyaoma, Hopi Tribe chairman. “Governor Cox, political leaders in your circle, stop. Stop the attacks.”

In October, President Biden signed an executive order expanding Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, — another reversal in a years long dispute.

The response was immediate, drawing praise from tribal leaders and conservationists, and criticism from other residents, including state leaders and delegates.

The state is pursuing legal action to challenge President Biden’s executive order, arguing legislative action is the only way forward to avoid the back and forth from administration to administration.

In a statement, the Office of the Attorney General said, “Utah has repeatedly sought a legislative solution that would both ensure protection of the State’s magnificent landscapes while simultaneously creating thoughtful and strategic management practices. Unfortunately, President Biden’s actions have foreclosed a collaborative process, created more uncertainty, and prolonged the tug-of-war over these lands.”

“A lawsuit against the monument will divide us and further deepen older wounds,” Nuvangyaoma said. “This is not a political football game, to be punting this back and forth.”

Supporters of the restoration of the monuments gathered with signs, applause and songs.

Organizers said they were standing for the preservation of the land and also for tribal sovereignty.

Protesters against state leaders’ efforts also called out the state for attempting to use tax payer money on a lawsuit.

“There are better ways to use your energy,” Nuvangyaoma said. “Using tax dollars to again wage a war against these sacred lands is not the right way to use that energy.”

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Tribes push back on state’s efforts to sue over Bears Ears order