Monticello • A dozen state and county leaders gathered in Monticello on Thursday morning to decry a monument designation they said was made from the sandy shores of Maui by a president who mistook his role for king.
As about 200 people congregated on the town's closed-off Main Street, San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman was joined near the county building steps by Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, state Rep. Mike Noel and state House Speaker Greg Hughes, among others.
Many accused President Barack Obama of ignoring southeastern Utahns in protecting 1.35 million acres that are rich in cultural and archaeological value — even if he did so at the request of a tribal coalition — and called upon President-elect Donald Trump to undo it.
Monticello Mayor Tim Young said the media and environmental groups present a false narrative that the land is being "destroyed," or that treasured sites are in danger.
"We are the stewards of the land here," Young said.
Cox, a former Sanpete County commissioner, said he knows from his own rural roots that the federal government is "systematically destroying" a way of life; ranchers often hear false promises that their grazing will be restored after cuts.
Fifth-generation San Juan County ranchers Tyler and Lacey Ivins said 75 percent of their grazing land is inside the monument. Obama's proclamation doesn't preclude grazing, but Tyler Ivins said Bill Clinton's 1996 designation of Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument led to a substantial reduction.
Lacey held a "Locals Matter" sign with handprints traced and signed by seven of her nieces. All grew up on ranches, she said.
"With this, tomorrow, [the federal government] can say your way of life is done."
Cox said that while Clinton was dogged in Utah for issuing his designation from a desk on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon — in Arizona — Obama made his while on vacation in Hawaii.
"Arizona's a hell of a lot closer than Hawaii," he said, challenging Obama to visit San Juan County.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell went on a breakneck, four-day tour of the region in July and said she hoped Utah's delegation would be able to find a legislative solution that would safeguard the delicate region without executive action.
But Congress adjourned this month without taking action on Bishop's "grand bargain" plan for Utah's public lands.
While those in Monticello held signs that read "#TrumpThisMonument," "Rural Lives Should Matter" and "Obama Sucks," the mood was expectedly more subdued in tourism-based Bluff. A day earlier, tribal leaders were gathered there to map out a reaction strategy when they received the call from the White House.
Jonah Yellowman, a Navajo elder from Monument Valley and spiritual adviser to the Utah Dine Bikeyah, said the first thing the group did was pray to Mother Earth. They made tentative plans for a wider celebration next weekend.
"This is a Native monument," Yellowman said on Butler Wash, backdropped by the Comb Ridge, known by Navajo as Mother Earth's backbone. "… This is the first time ever this is going to happen."
But Yellowman said some elders he spoke to were reluctant to lend their support because they feared they might lose government benefits.
The monument's proclamation provides for access by members of Indian tribes for traditional cultural uses, including "collection of medicines, berries and other vegetation, forest products, and firewood."
Monument advocates have accused opponents of spreading misinformation, though.
Thursday, printouts affixed to county roads along Butler Wash advertised a bogus $100 "Entrance Fee" for the monument.
"No Wood Cutting"
Earlier in Monticello, a few Navajo speakers railed against the designation to respectful silence from non-natives.
Betty Jones, 87, suggested Obama might not be human, according to a translation from her daughter, Anna.
Corrine Tso summarized a speech by her mother, Mary Tso, in which she likewise opposed the monument and cast shame on Navajo Nation for its backing.
Corrine Tso said she was distraught when she first heard the news, but her mother continued beading and said Trump would set it straight.
Corrine Tso laughed as she said that Mary had voted against Trump. But she'd seen him get "mean" on "The Apprentice" reality series.
Obama's monument, Mary said, will be "fired."
Gary Mooneyhan, who says he moved to Monticello from North Carolina about four years ago, wore Confederate attire and said the Bears Ears designation was an extension of federal overreach that has been rampant since it sparked the Civil War.
"I love my Constitution. I love this country," said Mooneyhan. "This is our piece of land. The people here, the vast majority, don't want a monument."
Lyman said that rural Utahns take umbrage when environmental groups promise to "save us from ourselves."
Added fellow County Commissioner Bruce Adams: "President Obama, you have offended every person in San Juan County."
Noel asked for a show of hands from veterans and said Obama had "trampled" on the constitution they fought for. But there will be a "silver lining," Noel said: Obama's overreach will compel the state to ensure that the Antiquities Act no longer applies in Utah.
Utah state Sen. Todd Weiler did him one better. A Bears Ears monument will not be Obama's legacy, he said.
Rather, Weiler said, Obama will be remembered as the president whose recklessness led Congress to overturn the Antiquities Act.