Native American tribes in Utah will have expanded opportunities to take advantage of rural development opportunities and formally consult about potential burial sites for ancient human remains.
Overall, this year’s session of the Utah Legislature was mostly positive for Native Americans, even if (or maybe because) nothing groundbreaking was proposed. Many of the bills that will help tribes actually focus on larger issues that rural communities statewide want to address. There have also been multiple resolutions that either support tribes or pay tribute to indigenous people.
Ancient Human Remains
The lone bill pushed by the Division of Indian Affairs was SB81, which would add language to legislation passed two years ago that looks to state parks as potential sites for the burial of ancient human remains. The added language would allow for the use of specific funds for the program to be used for tribal consultations about locations and process. That bill passed the Legislature Feb. 27 and is expected to be signed by the governor.
Messages of Support
Legislators passed multiple resolutions favorable to tribes and indigenous people. While these resolutions have minimal practical impact, they still carry political weight.
SB101: Creates Navajo Code Talker Highway in San Juan County on portions of State Highway 162, State Highway 163, and U.S. 191. A companion resolution honors Navajo Code Talkers. Both bills have passed the Legislature.
SCR9: Supports Navajo Water Authority Settlement, proposed in Congress by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah. This settlement would provide $244 million in funding for water infrastructure projects in the Navajo Nation. The resolution passed the Legislature unanimously on March 12.
HCR6: Tribal leaders and others spotlighting this resolution, which honors missing or murdered indigenous women and girls, during American Indian Caucus Day with ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda. The resolution passed the Legislature unanimously.
Rural Work Opportunities
The Legislature passed a new program that creates grants for businesses building co-working hubs in counties outside of the Wasatch Front. These hubs help people work online and provide more employment opportunities in rural areas.
Bills of Concern
There were some bills that could have potentially negative impacts on tribal leaders, although most impacts could be addressed before they take effect. These include House Bill 387, which eliminated a slew of boards and commissions. Through this bill, the Native American Legislative Liaison Committee would no longer exist after 2022. The division and the Department of Heritage & Arts are working to ensure that tribal leaders continue to have a similar direct conduit to legislators as what this committee provided.
Other bills that passed and may be of concern include House Bill 78, which requires political subdivisions of the state to appear before a legislative committee before they take a formal position on proposed federal land designation. Another bill, House Bill 179, makes it a misdemeanor for a person to barricade or authorize the blocking of a road for reasons not explicitly allowed by state law.
Finally, legislators approved funding for an interpretative center at the site of the Bear Rive Massacre near Preston, Idaho. They also passed SB270, which makes it a misdemeanor to deface, with graffiti or etching, federal and state public lands. The penalty would be community services hours that focus on improving public lands, whenever possible.
Historic photo of legislative clerks part of the Division of State History digital collections.