Press Contacts:

Natalie Landreth, Native American Rights Fund, 907-360-3423,
Matthew Campbell, Native American Rights Fund, 303-447-8760,
Katherine Belzowski, Navajo Nation DOJ, 734-646-2050,
Rollie Wilson, Ute Indian Tribe, 202-340-8232,                                         

Bluff, Utah (March 5, 2018) – On Friday, March 2, 2018, the New York Times reported on a trove of documents released on the process leading up to President Trump’s December 2017 Presidential Proclamation which purported to overturn President Obama’s creation of the Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah. These documents show active coordination between the State of Utah, the Department of Interior (DOI), and others in the Trump administration to open up the Bears Ears National Monument lands to oil and gas and uranium development.

Tribal leaders are appalled to learn that this extensive consultation occurred well before the president issued his March 2017 executive order mandating the review of 27 national monuments across the nation. The released documents show that gutting Bears Ears National Monument was a foregone conclusion.

“This is a clear-cut case of saying one thing and doing another,” said Navajo Nation Council Delegate Davis Filfred. “Secretary Zinke says that rescinding and replacing Bears Ears is not about extracting oil and gas or uranium, but these records clearly show otherwise. The Interior Department asked their local offices to show them where the minerals might be; then they cut those areas out of the shrunken Bears Ears monument. It’s unfortunate that tribes were not given the same level of access and deference afforded the state.”

“This evidence shows the Trump administration’s disrespect of their trust responsibility to our tribal nations, their utter dismissal of our government-to-government relationship, and their serious disregard for our cultural patrimony,” said Clark Tenakhongva, Vice-Chairman of the Hopi Tribe.

“These documents detail consultation between Utah officials and the Trump administration on Bears Ears, the likes of which our five sovereign Native Nations sought, but did not enjoy. We only got a one- hour meeting with Secretary Zinke in Utah, and a four-hour follow-up meeting in Washington, D.C. with his deputy,” said Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Chairman Harold Cuthair. “We asked them to leave the monument alone, but you can see who they really listened to – those who want Bears Ears gone.”

“This disturbing information was not voluntarily released by the Department of Interior, but only was disclosed to the public after a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act was filed,” said Carleton Bowekaty, Pueblo of Zuni Councilman. “They should be ashamed of what has been exposed.”

“Last Friday’s New York Times story covers only an initial look at the material, and the Times still has some 25,000 pages of documents to review,” said Navajo Nation vice President Jonathan Nez. “We look forward to further revelations that can help clarify for the public that the Trump administration’s motives for reducing Bears Ears by 85 percent were really about appeasing uranium and fossil fuel developers, not about protecting our ancestral public lands.”

“This whole decision-making process was beyond flawed, and these documents show that,” said Shaun Chapoose, Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee member. “It seems the Department of Interior was improperly letting Utah politicians make their decision on Bears Ears for them.”

Bears Ears has been home to Hopi, Navajo, Ute, Ute Mountain Ute, and Zuni people since time immemorial. Bears Ears National Monument was designated in 2016 to protect countless archeological, cultural, and natural resources. The monument is also a celebration of Tribal voices, cultures, and sacred sites, all containing timeless volumes of Tribal knowledge that we want to see protected for our Tribal communities and for all of America.


In legal matters, the Navajo Nation is represented by the Navajo Nation Department of Justice; the Hopi Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, and Ute Mountain Ute Tribes are represented by the Native American Rights Fund; the Pueblo of Zuni is represented by Sonosky, Chambers, Sachse, Endreson & Perry, LLP; and Ute Indian Tribe is represented by Fredericks Peebles & Morgan LLP.

The Hopi, Navajo, Ute, Ute Mountain Ute, and Zuni Tribal Governments are working together to defend Bears Ears National Monument.