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Navajo Nation president backs Bears Ears, but Utah’s governor hopes to keep talking

Posted at 3:31 PM, Aug 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-29 19:12:16-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez reiterated his support for a lawsuit against President Trump’s decision to shrink Bears Ears National Monument.

In a Facebook post after meeting with Utah Diné Bikeyah and others who support the original monument designation, the Navajo Nation president reiterated his support.

“We will continue to fight — our position has not changed. We continue to support the original Bears Ears National Monument designation of 1.9 million acres. We’re protecting these lands for all Indigenous people,” he said.

Referencing talks between Governor Gary Herbert and Navajo leaders that FOX 13 first reported on in July, the post said “President Nez restated that there are no formal negotiations involving the Navajo Nation regarding the Bears Ears National Monument, and that there has been no formal proposal put forth by the State of Utah.”

The Navajo Nation’s Office of President and Vice-President did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the post.

Utah Diné Bikeyah was glad to hear the statement.

“We would prefer them not to negotiate because we’re obviously suing,” said Alastair Bitsóí, the group’s communications director.

Utah Diné Bikeyah has argued that the lawsuit over President Trump’s decision to shrink the monument should go forward in the courts. Lawsuits have been filed by environmental and tribal groups.

“As a nonprofit, Native American organization, we are pleased that tribal leaders, Native American leaders, are not formally or officially negotiating without the other coalition tribes on Bears Ears National Monument,” Bitsóí said of the Navajo Nation president’s statement.

FOX 13 interviewed both Gov. Herbert and Navajo Nation Vice-President Myron Lizer, who each said they had some discussion about ways to possibly resolve the ongoing lawsuits over Bears Ears in meetings on the Navajo Nation earlier in the summer.

“We’ll take further discussions with him and try to escalate them and advance all of our first nations people’s dialogue into that,” Vice-President Lizer said, emphasizing their stance about preservation of the monument and involvement of others in the talks.

The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition told FOX 13 at the time it had not been involved in the talks.

In a statement Thursday, Gov. Herbert’s office said there is “no formal consultation process underway between the State of Utah and the Navajo Nation.”

“Governor Herbert attended a meeting with Navajo leadership in Window Rock, AZ earlier this summer and expressed his hope for increased collaboration in the future and his dedication to securing longterm protection for the sacred lands of the Bears Ears National Monument,” his office said. “The governor very much appreciated the opportunity to visit with and learn from President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer in these meetings and looks forward to working with them in the future.”