Phil Lyman: San Juan County didn’t invent discrimination against Native Americans

(Rick Bowmer | AP file photo) Monument Valley, Utah, in October 2018.

Robert Gehrke’s starts his July 22 article about gerrymandering in San Juan County with a thinly veiled attempt to disparage and misrepresent the good people of San Juan County.

He writes, “For decades, Navajo voters were the victims of institutionalized discrimination and disenfranchisement in San Juan County, and the barrier that relegated them to second-class citizens seemed insurmountable.”

San Juan County didn’t create institutionalized discrimination of Native Americans. San Juan County didn’t write Article I section 2 of the Constitution, which says that Indians who don’t pay taxes are not counted in the voting population of states. The county didn’t implement the 1868 scorched-earth U.S. military campaign that preceded the forced removal of Navajos from their ancestral land and led to the long walk to Bosque Rodondo. San Juan County didn’t author the 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, which excluded “Indians” from the respective numbers used to determine U.S. congressional representation.

San Juan County didn’t author The Indian Naturalization Act of 1890 nor the Indian Citizenship Act in 1924. San Juan County didn’t create boarding schools or insist that Native Americans assimilate. San Juan County didn’t create the 1934 Indian New Deal that resulted in destroying the livelihoods of Navajos and providing welfare programs in their place. San Juan County didn’t drive Navajo livestock and people into the San Juan river in 1953 – that was the Bureau of Land Management. These institutionalized programs were federal. All of them.

The gerrymandering done in 1984 in San Juan County, in what Gehrke accurately calls “the old ‘pack-and-crack’ technique,” was not done by San Juan County. It was done by the federal courts. San Juan County does not have the desire nor the ability to racially gerrymander a district. Only the federal courts are allowed to take race into consideration when gerrymandering districts, and that is exactly what they have done — always at the urging of politically motivated environmentalist organizations.

The 1984 decree imposed on San Juan County stated: “This (federal) Court has jurisdiction over this matter and shall retain jurisdiction for all purposes.” How the Utah Legislature and the governor’s office stood by and allowed such a federal overreach to occur in 1984 is a mystery, but they did and then did it again in 2018. Those are facts.

When Gerhke writes, “I guess (Judge) Shelby knows more about the law than (Phil) Lyman,” I hope he understands that I have never questioned Judge Shelby’s knowledge of the law, only his motives.

The rest of Gehrke’s article is similarly feeble. San Juan County has had as its mission and its highest priority to mitigate the negative effects of federal disenfranchisement of our Native American citizens. The record on this effort is extensive. When you observe a town like Blanding, you find a melting pot of races and cultures with several generations of mixed-race families.

Why does The Tribune have such disdain for the truth on this matter? Why lie about San Juan County’s role? Is it to get a larger Bears Ears Monument? Is The Tribune hoping to add momentum to the “Blue Wave” in 2020? Would The Tribune honestly sacrifice their ethics for the sake of promoting their agenda? (That last question is purely rhetorical.)

Of course there are many challenges that come with such diversity in a single community like San Juan County. Mudslingers looking for the bad and the ugly will, sadly, find some of that as well. But the story of San Juan County has been and will continue to overwhelmingly be one of mutual respect, empowerment and inclusion.

The county is moving forward in a positive direction as a product of the goodwill and honest efforts of people who are willing to put principle ahead of politics. The genuine regard that the majority of people have for each other will overcome the barbs and slanders and untruths of the naysayers. That is a fact, not only in San Juan County, but in all the great state of Utah.

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) Phil Lyman

Phil Lyman, Blanding, is a former San Juan County commissioner and current state representative for District 73.