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Senate Advances Resolution Asking Washington To Exempt Utah From Future NM Designations

Anasazi rock art in Utah

Grand County Republican Rep. Carl Abrecht's HJR1 is pretty straightforward. Its 36 short lines of text conclude with an appeal to Utah's congressional delegation. The message? Pass legislation to make Utah exempt from future National Monument designations.

But a public hearing for HJR1 on Monday evening was anything but straightforward. 

At a meeting of the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee, the resolution was met with public opposition - much of it coming from representatives of Utah Native American tribes.

Denae Shanidiin, who is Navajo, said that Albrecht's measure was part of a long trend of indigenous voices being ignored by policymakers. 

“This is simple for me as an indigenous woman as a survivor of systematic genocide - someone who dedicates my daily life preserving my history and the sovereignty of my people," she said. "This exemption of the Antiquities Act is quite clear to me and it’s a further suppression of the indigenous voice. Unfortunately this is nothing new to us and here we are again as First Nations as a tribal coalition who have been excluded in the conversation and decision making process. I’ve seen it happen over and over again.”

That message was backed up with testimony by other native opponents of the resolution, including Carl Moore, who is Hopi, and who said that because Bears Ears National Monument is sacred, tribal land, tribal voices needed to be heard. 

“I would like to appeal to your hearts, you know? It’s time that people look inside and say ‘what do we need to do as human beings’?" he said. "Bears Ears, the original designation was something that was done by the Native American people, by a collaboration of people, by some of my people - the Hopi People - because that place is sacred. And I don’t know I hear people commenting about working together or whatever and that’s good thing but the Native American voice has to be heard before anybody else’s voice. This is native land. It’s always going to be native land.”

But Matt Anderson with the conservative thinktank Sutherland Institute spoke in favor of Rep. Albrecht's Resolution. Anderson said that testimony at the hearing proved that the Antiquities Act was being misused in Utah.

“We heard a young woman earlier speak about the Native American artifacts are the reason for the Antiquities Act and she’s absolutely correct," Anderson said. "In the same breath we heard another gentleman talk about clean air and oil and gas drilling and that we need to stop that by using the Antiquities Act. It highlights the point that the Antiquities Act is really being used for things other than its intended original purpose of protecting Native American sites. It’s being used for issues of climate change, political favors, political gamesmanship, you name it. And that’s wrong. We should be using laws for their intended purpose, not anything more.”


Lawmakers, who last year passed a resolution asking for the National Monuments in Utah to be reduced or rescinded, were more amenable to this line of argument - and House Joint Resolution 1 passed the committee on a 3-2 vote. 

Following that vote there was an exchange that demonstrated the elevated tensions in Utah over the wide divide on public lands policy. Committee Chair, Orem Republican Sen. Margaret Dayton called for order after some members of the public expressed vocal frustration with the easy passage of Albrecht's bill.

House Joint Resolution 1 now only needs to clear the full senate to be sent to the governor's desk for a signature.