False documents fuel controversy in Bears Ears National Monument debate

Posted at 9:53 PM, May 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-24 23:54:34-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- On her way to Salt Lake City from southern Utah, Cynthia Wilson stopped at a gas station. What she found on the bulletin board proved upsetting.

“It’s really offensive for the Navajo people,” said Wilson, a member of the Navajo Nation.

The flier she spotted was an invite to join a designation party for Bears Ears.  It read in part, “Utah Navajos, stay away from our party.”

“It’s highlighted that everyone’s invited except the Utah Navajos,” said Wilson, holding up a copy of the flier.

Bears Ears is roughly 1.9 million acres of land in southern Utah named for the Bears Ears Buttes. Besides sharing similar geographical features of Canyonlands National Park, it is home to tens-of-thousands of archaeological sites. Parts of the land are considered sacred to the Navajo Nation.

Wilson is the outreach coordinator for Diné Bikéyah, an advocacy group trying to earn the land a designation as a national monument.

Diné Bikéyah means “land of the people” in Navajo.  The flier she found falsely stated it was an invite to join the group for the celebration.

It is not the only misleading document Wilson has discovered. A letter that appears to be from the U.S. Department of Interior includes claims that President Obama is preparing to take land away from the Navajo Nation.

The Department of Interior responded, writing:

“It has been brought to our attention that an inauthentic news release has been circulating around the Navajo Nation. This was not sent out from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs or from the U.S. Department of Interior.

President Obama has no intentions of reducing the size of the Navajo Reservation. The Secretary of the Interior is still committed to placing 500,000 acres of land into trust nationwide by the end of President Obama's term.”

The letters and fliers are another sign of what has become a bitter fight. Several Utah lawmakers, including Gov. Gary Herbert, sit on the other side of the debate.

“Talking about the desire we have for them ‘not’ to designate a national monument here in Utah,” said Herbert last week during a rally on the steps of the state capitol.

Herbert was surrounded by members of the Navajo Nation against designation.

Within the Navajo Nation there is a split on the issue. The president of the Navajo Nation sent a letter to President Obama requesting the designation and Diné Bikéyah has collected thousands of postcards in support.

The postcards and rallies are both legitimate ways of debating the hotly contested issue.

The forged letters may border on criminal as forgeries of government documents.  The Utah Attorney General’s office told FOX 13 News it has not received any complaints about the letters. The Salt Lake office of the FBI also stated it is not investigating.

Whether or not a law has been broken, the fliers are finding it hard to gain purchase. Wilson took every flier and false document down, posting a link to the forgeries on the Diné Bikéyah website: