Navajo Nation Council in favor of protecting more of Utah’s public lands as federal wilderness

The Navajo Nation Council voted to support the proposed federal legislation America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act.

(Al Hartmann | Tribune file photo) A view of the sandstone cliffs near the Buckhorn Wash area of the San Rafael Swell.

Protecting ancestral cultural sites like hogans, sweat lodges, sheep herding camps and old farms are just a few of the reasons the Navajo Nation Council has decided to support America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act–proposed federal legislation aimed at adding lands in Utah to the National Wilderness Preservation System.

The Navajo Nation Council said protecting approximately 8.5 million acres of public lands in Utah would also help address climate change.

“Our support for this congressional bill sends a message that the Navajo Nation is concerned about climate change and the impact on our environment,” said Navajo Council Delegate Herman Daniels, adding that Indigenous people have been the original caretakers of the sacred lands for generations.

“Since time immemorial, we have lived in the canyons, mountains and on the mesas currently managed by the federal government that would be protected and preserved by this congressional bill,” he added.

Besides the Navajo Nation, the lands are also ancestral to the Ute, Hopi, Zuni, Paiute, and Pueblo Peoples in New Mexico.

Earlier this month, Daniels, who represents the communities of Ts’ah Bii’ Kin, Navajo Mountain, Shonto, and Oljato, sponsored a bill in the Navajo Legislature that said Navajo Nation leadership should support the proposed federal legislation.

The 24-member council passed their own bill favoring the congressional proposal with a 21-0 vote on Nov. 1.

According to a draft bill in the U.S. Senate, America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act would designate some lands in the Colorado Plateau and Great Basin Desert — including parts of Grand Staircase-Escalante, the Moab-La Sal Canyons, Henry Mountains, Glen Canyon, San Juan-Anasazi, Canyonlands, San Rafael Swell, Block Cliffs and Uinta Basin — as federal wilderness areas.

Nineteen Democratic Senators have cosponsored the legislation, while 87 Democrats have cosponsored the House version of the bill. None of Utah’s all-Republican congressional delegation are on the list of cosponsors.

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance said making lands listed in the proposal, which are all publicly owned, wilderness, would also help protect the migration routes for animals and birds as far away as the Grand Canyon and Glacier National Park. According to the alliance, the proposal is supported by more than 200 conservation organizations, such as the National Resources Defense Council, the Wasatch Mountain Club and the Sierra Club.

At the local level, the Utah Navajo Chapters of Red Mesa, Teec Nos Pos, Oljato, Dennehotso Beclabito, Mexican Water and Navajo Mountain support the wilderness act, according to the Navajo Nation Office of the Speaker.

“Protecting our land is important to the Navajo people, and we support this wilderness designation in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act,” said Navajo Nation Council Speaker Seth Damon (Bááhaalí, Chichiltah, Manuelito, Red Rock, Rock Springs, Tséyatoh). “President (Joe) Biden outlined a robust policy change across the federal government to address climate change. It is imperative that the Navajo Nation work on a global level to address this growing problem that affects our oceans, air and water.”