Ute Indian tribe slams Biden monument on ancestral land


SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah-based Native American tribe that has frequently sparred with President Joe Biden has again criticized the White House for not consulting enough with its leaders ahead of this week’s creation of a national monument on ancestral lands in Colorado.

The Ute Indian Tribe is one of three Ute tribes in the western United States that share ancestral ties but operate independently. Representatives from Colorado’s other two — the Southern Ute and the Ute Mountain Ute — agreed with the plan and attended Wednesday’s ceremony with Biden but did not speak on stage.

Biden and others spoke at length about the importance of the land to the tribes, and the official White House proclamation included mention of Ute burial sites in the area.

But the Ute Indian Tribe, which has nearly 3,000 members on land in an area known for its oil and gas operations in eastern Utah, said in a news release late Wednesday night that it does not didn’t agree with the plan.

The tribe’s affairs committee, which serves as its governing body, said in the statement that it was briefed on the new monument just days ago during a phone call with the White House, with little details and little time to provide feedback.

“They advanced with a monument on our native lands without including us. They talk about tribal consultation, but their actions don’t match their words,” the statement read.

PHOTOS: Ute Indian tribe slams Biden monument on ancestral land

The presidents of Colorado’s two tribes backed the designation in letters to Biden sent Oct. 7. The letters were sent by Manuel Heart, president of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and Melvin J. Baker, president of the Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council.

Baker noted that for centuries the Camp Hale area was home to the Ute people and remains culturally significant to the Utes.

“It has been said that what a country saves is what it chooses to say about itself. By preserving these areas of cultural significance to the Ute people, you are reflecting the importance of indigenous peoples and tribal nations to the history and progress of this country,” Baker said.

Biden administration officials met with each Ute tribe as part of crafting the proclamation. A senior administration official said the tribes had expressed support – not opposition – to the monument. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about private discussions and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. And representatives from all three tribes have been invited to Wednesday’s event.

White House officials said the proclamation requires management decisions at the monument to reflect tribal expertise and knowledge, and that officials will strive to “pursue opportunities” for co-stewardship.

At Wednesday’s event near the Colorado ski town of Vail, Biden spoke primarily about the site’s historical significance as a former alpine training site where U.S. soldiers prepared for battles in the Italian Alps during World War II. But he also took the time to talk about it once it was home to tribes.

“I’m also honored to be joined by several tribal leaders here, because this is your offspring, this beautiful land,” Biden said. “These precious lands tell the story of America. For thousands of years, tribal nations have been stewards of this sacred land, hunting game, foraging for medicinal plants, and maintaining a deep spiritual connection to the land itself.

The criticism comes as Biden tries to elevate the issues important to Native Americans. He appointed Deb Haaland as Secretary of the Interior, making her the first Native American to head a U.S. Cabinet agency. Haaland’s selection was hailed as historic by Democrats and tribal groups who said it meant Indigenous peoples would see for the first time a Native American leading the powerful department where decisions on relations with 574 federally recognized tribes are taken.

Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, was not at Wednesday’s ceremony, and his agency does not oversee the new monument. Camp Hale – Continental Divide National Monument, which covers more than 53,800 acres near the Vail ski resort, will be protected and managed by the US Forest Service under the US Department of Agriculture.

The Ute Indian tribe has regularly criticized the Biden administration.

The tribe berated Biden in the early days of his term over the oil and gas moratorium. They accused him of breaking a treaty between the tribe and the U.S. government, saying power-producing tribes depend on development to fund governments and provide services to tribal members. Biden later clarified that the rule did not apply to tribal lands.

He also claims the Biden administration failed to consult the tribe enough on things like the drought in the Colorado River Basin and failed to give the tribe more control over land within its reservation boundaries.

The Ute Indian Tribe Reservation – established before Utah became a state in 1896 – is the second largest of any Native American tribe in the United States, at more than 7,000 square miles (18,000 square kilometers). But the land is a chessboard of property, and the Utes don’t control everything within the boundaries.

The Ute Indian Tribe is among the tribes that have pushed the administration to move from a tribal consultation process that is often seen as a checkbox exercise to one where tribes are brought in early in the development of actions federal and tribal consent is required, as outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The concept of free, prior and informed consent has not gained popularity in the United States

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