- Associated Press - Sunday, January 3, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Tribal leaders in the Southwest said that they will no longer meet with Utah’s congressional delegation on a proposal to designate a section of southeastern Utah as a national monument, and instead take their interests to the White House.

A five-tribe coalition has accused Utah representatives of lip service and a failure to engage. A failure to release a draft bill by a Dec. 30 deadline was the last straw, tribal officials said in a letter sent late last week to Republican Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz.

“Our strenuous efforts to participate in the (Public Lands Initiative), and related proceedings before that over the course of the past six years have been consistently stonewalled. We have never been taken seriously,” the Bears Ears Inter-tribal Coalition wrote. “Our five sovereign tribal nations, and our carefully drafted comprehensive proposal, deserve far more than that.”

The group said Utah delegates are refusing to include a conservation vision for the landscape bordered by San Juan County’s Cedar Mesa and Abajo Mountains into the public lands initiative. They will now focus on petitioning President Barack Obama directly in regards to the proposed Bears Ears National Monument, The Salt Lake City Tribune reported (https://bit.ly/1ZIN8wa ).

Other grievances include insincere lip service to their interests, noncommittal reassurances and a refusal to engage tribal representatives.

Chaffetz told The Associated Press on Sunday that the group’s assertions were “hollow in nature and void of fact.”

“We’ve had over a thousand meetings, literally a thousand meetings,” Chaffetz said. “I spent an hour with them in Washington, D.C. just 30 days ago.”

Chaffetz said he doesn’t understand why tribal officials are giving up discussions when a bill hasn’t even had a chance to be introduced.

“I don’t know why they would walk away from the table when we haven’t finished the process. But it’s their choice,” Chaffetz said.

Bishop said the coalition’s agenda doesn’t incorporate the wishes of Utah Navajos.

“One of our efforts has been to reconcile this proposal with what Utah Navajos want, and a monument is not the solution,” Bishop said in a statement. “A structured conservation area would allow Native Americans who live in the area to use this land, and have the ability to maintain their traditional activities with the least amount of federal interference.”

The proposed Bears Ears National Monument is named for twin buttes that overlook Cedar Mesa. The 1.9 million-acre area would be bordered to the south by the Navajo Nation and to the west by Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Canyonlands National Park. The Manti-La Sal National Forest would make up part of the eastern boundary.

American Indian and conservation groups say the area is under constant threat. A handful of tribes want Obama to use his power under the Antiquities Act to proclaim the area a national monument and honor the tribes’ inherent connection with the land.

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Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, https://www.sltrib.com

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