Tribes of North America once inhabited vast ecologically rich landscapes and even though ties to these ancestral lands have remained strong, tribal interests are rarely considered in public land policy decisions. Also, as development demands on public lands have continued to increase, so have native concerns for the future of these lands.
The Navajo San Juan Conservation Initiative has the expressed goals of developing a Navajo voice for the conservation of Utah’s public land, and to effect improved and expanded conservation for these lands.
As stated in the 2010 Round River publication, Diné Bikéyah —
We, the Navajo, who reside in what is now the State of Utah, wish to communicate to our fellow Utah and American citizens our deep connections and commitments to these lands. These perspectives we express here are not new, but they have rarely been voiced beyond our people. As others continue to argue about the fate and appropriate use of these lands, they continue to be desecrated and dishonored. Therefore, we have now chosen to share our Elders’ wisdom, as there is so much hanging in the balance for our future generations.
Comprised of world-renowned archaeological resources and characterized by extreme topographic relief and remarkable biological diversity, San Juan County, Utah is bordered by the Navajo Nation reservation and the Colorado River. Comprising the majority of its residents, the Navajo, are concerned for the proper management of these ancestral lands. Consequently, the Navajo Nation requested Round River’s assistance through a formal agreement in the development of a conservation strategy, combining cultural knowledge with ecological inputs to identify areas most important for conservation and for Navajo use.
On the 16th of April 2013, the Diné Bikéyah National Conservation Area was presented to the Commissioners of San Juan County and to representatives of the Utah Congressional delegation. Describing their deep ties to these public lands, Navajo leaders and elders expressed their desire to contribute to future management decisions and the need for protective measures through wilderness designations, administrative actions, and other land management prescriptions.
The goals of the Diné Bikéyah National Conservation Area are to:
- Provide land designations and clear management prioritization toward the protection of cultural and biological resources over other land-uses;
- Increase funding allocation to improve management of resources for this region;
- Implement outcomes that recognize the legitimate interests of Navajo and other tribes on federal land; and
- Provide a co-management process for incorporating Navajo knowledge into land management decisions.
The Navajo Nation and the San Juan County Commission are currently negotiating through a joint land planning process. It is the goal of the Navajo Nation that this joint planning produce a draft lands bill that includes SITLA land exchanges, creation of a Diné Bikéyah National Conservation Area, US Forest Service and BLM wilderness recommendations, as well as, other policies to protect and conserve cultural sites and ecological processes.
In the event the joint planning process proves not to be contusive for protecting Navajo interests, the Navajo Nation are also seeking executive and administrative actions to ensure ongoing use and to protect archaeological, wildlife, natural and scenic values through the creation of the Diné Bikéyah National Monument.
Monticello, Utah. On August 9, 2013, Navajo Nation representatives offered their vision for Navajo ancestral and federal public lands within San Juan County. At the request of Utah Congressman Rob Bishop, the 1.9 million acre Diné Bikéyah National Conservation Area that includes wilderness designations and co-managed areas was presented to an open house convened at the San Juan County Courthouse in Monticello, Utah.
“For the Navajo, to collaborate in the management of the Diné Bikéyah National Conservation Area ensures that these lands will be managed in a manner that protects our deep interests,” Fred White, Executive Director, Navajo Nation Department of Natural Resources.