Split appears in San Juan as new Navajo-led County Commission moves to support an even bigger Bears Ears than Trump shrunk

The remade San Juan County Commission began reversing its earlier positions on Bears Ears National Monument this week.

The divided panel dissolved old resolutions opposing a large monument and took a step toward asking Congress to make an even bigger one than President Barack Obama created in 2016.

Audio of Tuesday’s meeting in Monticello, posted on a state website Wednesday, showed how Bears Ears remains contentious in San Juan County and entwined with larger politics there. A pair of resolutions supporting a large national monument passed the commission 2-1. The two new Navajo members of the commission voted yes.

During public comments before the votes, there were renewed questions from mostly white residents of whether the two Navajo commissioners, Democrats Kenneth Maryboy and Willie Grayeyes, were representing everyone in the county.

“I have a background in history,” said Shanon Brooks, a frequent speaker at the commission meetings, “and this has happened many, many times where tyranny has come in and overridden the will of the people. This is textbook.”

“I’m into history,” Grayeyes replied. “My ancestors were here. When did yours come?”

“I don’t represent just one group of people,” Grayeyes said a few moments later.

“Well, this resolution does,” Brooks replied.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Newly sworn in San Juan County commissioners Willie Grayeyes, Kenneth Maryboy and Bruce Adams talk together, after being sworn in at the San Juan County Courthouse in Monticello, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019.

The Blanding City Council has passed its own resolution opposing further changes to Bears Ears National Monument without greater community dialogue. Councilwoman Cheryl Bowers read the resolution to the County Commission. Then said she wants to work with the commissioners but added that she didn’t feel like they were communicating with constituents and that she wished Maryboy and Grayeyes would look her in the eye.

“In Navajo," Maryboy said, “I would be disrespecting you by looking you in the eye.”

One resolution passed Tuesday rescinded all prior commission resolutions regarding the establishment of Bears Ears National Monument. That measure also calls for “condemning the actions of President Donald Trump in violating the Antiquities Act of 1906 by unlawfully reducing the Bears Ears National Monument.”

The second resolution directed the county attorney to withdraw a court motion to intervene in a lawsuit over Trump’s 2017 shrinking of the monument. That motion argued in favor of the Trump administration.

In explaining his no votes, Commissioner Bruce Adams, a Republican, said Trump’s actions have not been proved unlawful.

As for withdrawing from the litigation, Adams said: “We’re setting the county up for some pretty big legal problems if we pass this resolution, and I am absolutely 100 percent opposed to the resolution.”

The County Commission could throw even more support behind Bears Ears National Monument at its next meeting, March 5. On Tuesday, the commission considered a resolution supporting a bill in Congress to make the monument 1.9 million acres — even bigger than the 1.35 million one Obama created with his 2016 proclamation — but took no action on the measure.

The meeting touched on another Utah issue: drilling and mining. Some speakers expressed concern that a bigger monument would prevent oil, gas and mineral extraction. Separately, Adams asked his fellow commissioners to consider a resolution supporting the Bureau of Land Management selling oil and gas leases east of Blanding.

Grayeyes expressed environmental concerns.

Fault lines did not fall strictly along whites and Navajos. Anna Tom, of McCracken Mesa, criticized Maryboy for dividing the county and said she disagreed with the resolutions.

At one point, Tom, Maryboy and Grayeyes can be heard arguing in Navajo.