Navajo Nation VP blasts Trump's move to drastically shrink national monuments

Jonathan Nez on MSNBC: “It's a sad day in Indian country”

From the December 4 edition of MSNBC Live with Ali Velshi

Video file

ALI VELSHI (HOST): I’m joined by Jonathan Nez, vice president of the Navajo Nation, and Ethel Branch, attorney general for the Navajo Nation. Thank you to both of you. I managed to speak to somebody from the business council of the Ute tribe in the last hour, and he was sort of saying, or he had written that this matter has actually brought a number of the tribes together who sometimes don't -- haven't seen eye to eye on a bunch of things. Jonathan?

JONATHAN NEZ: Absolutely. Thank you, Ali, for having us on your show today. And a large group of Native American tribes, Native American nations, came together to protect those lands, those ancestral lands of ours -- to protect from people coming in and looting cultural items, historical items in that area. I mean, one of the things that I want to say is, today marks one week after President Trump mentioned the Pocahontas deal, and now we're looking at another troubling action by the White House, and it just -- it's a sad day. It's a sad day in Indian country. It’s a sad day for Americans to where the president says that the law of the land, and Antiquities Act is the law of the land, but he is overstepping his own authority by doing this type of action, and it's quite saddening to see this happen today here in the state of Utah. But for us, we hold that area as [a] historic place. Next year in 2018, Ali, is the 150th anniversary of the Treaty of 1868, which was signed between the Navajo Nation and the U.S. government, and we return home.


NEZ: And the Bears Ears national monument there holds a specific time period to where we -- some of our Navajo people never went on this long walk, and they hid out in that area and our Chief Manuelito was born and hid out in those areas. So it is time that we say, no more overstepping the authority and just -- not even following the law. And that's what generally happened. The Navajo Nation is going to take action and we're going to say no to this overstepping their boundaries.

VELSHI: Let me ask you about this, Ethel, the president made a big deal of pointing out that he had some support from members of the Navajo Nation and certainly brought some folks on stage --

NEZ: Well we weren’t invited, Ali.

VELSHI: Obviously he’s trying to indicate that there are some Native Americans who are in support of this action

NEZ: Well, it's a small minority. When we were talking about letting Obama protect this area, we had a large majority of our Navajo citizens, and we as a sovereign nation, our own tribal council approved a resolution saying that we want the Bears Ears designation and even the six out of the seven chapters in that Utah Navajo region supported the Bears Ears designation. And so to have the optics of this, how the lady there, the Native Americans there around the president, was just concerning to the Navajo Nation.

VELSHI: So, Ethel, let me ask you this, speaking of optics. You have said that the president should go to those lands that he wants to rescind the protections over, although he's not calling it rescinding protections, he’s actually somehow painted this as offering more protections. But your point is, he should go there?

ETHEL BRANCH: Absolutely. He's making this decision. I mean, he's really saying that he’s listening to the locals and is going to stop these actions taken by far-away bureaucrats, but that's exactly what he's doing. He is coming in from Washington, D.C. He doesn't even have enough respect to go visit those lands and visit with the people who live in that community or the sovereign nations that call those lands their homelands. He is completely missing, completely misunderstanding, what an Indian nation is and is ignoring the fact that we are sovereigns, we're governments, and we expect to be engaged on a nation-to-nation basis, and we have treaties, federal law, federal statutes, federal common law that define that relationship and there's absolutely no understanding of that from the actions we've seen from both President Trump, as well as [Interior Secretary Ryan] Zinke. They think that talking to one Native American person, one Navajo person, constitutes consultation with the Navajo Nation, and they're both gravely mistaken. We have our own tribal laws that define who can speak on behalf of our nation and we want those laws to be respected.


The Hill: Navajo Nation promises lawsuit against Trump’s national monument rollback

NY Times: President Trump Declares Major Reduction of Bears Ears Monument

CNN: At a Navajo veterans' event, Trump makes 'Pocahontas' crack


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