Sen. Mike Lee fashions himself a history buff, which is why it was particularly ironic to watch him mansplain to Rep. Deb Haaland, the first Native American ever nominated for a presidential Cabinet position, about the “ownership” of public lands here in Utah.
Indigenous peoples have lived in the area now known as Utah for thousands for years. By comparison, Sen. Lee’s family showed up in the 1840s, when his great-great grandfather John D. Lee came as a Mormon pioneer (a few decades later, Lee was caught up in the Mountain Meadows massacre, which he blamed on “Indians”). Haaland herself, on the other hand, is a 35th-generation New Mexican and an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo.
There is no one action that can erase the history of genocide that white settlers committed on Indigenous peoples across this nation, but restoring the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments would be small steps in the right direction. So would appointing the first Native American as Secretary of Interior.
Our “public” lands here in Utah belong first and foremost to the Indigenous peoples who first occupied them and their descendents, the Ute, Dine’ (Navajo), Paiute, Goshute, and Shoshone peoples. The rest of us are not owners, but at best caretakers, with a responsibility to defend these sacred places from desecration, privatization and environmental damage.
In this day and age, that means standing up to politicians like Sen. Lee, who would claim for his own what we all are instructed to protect.
Jamie Henn, Salt Lake City