WINDOW ROCK — The Navajo Nation strongly opposes H.B. 481, a Utah bill that would change the name of an iconic highway in southern Utah to honor President Donald Trump.
The Utah National Parks Highway, a series of roads that winds around all five of southern Utah’s national parks, is the focus of a bill that seeks to rename the scenic drive after the 45th president. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, wants to change the road’s name to the Donald J. Trump Utah National Parks Highway—a gesture of appreciation for Trump’s proclamation in December that dramatically reduced the size of the Bears Ears and Grand Escalante national monuments.
The House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee passed the bill with a 9-2 vote Monday. It now heads to the House for consideration.
“The Navajo Nation firmly opposes this bill,” President Russell Begaye said. “President Trump and Utah lawmakers are trying to reduce the size of Bears Ears, a national monument that protects land that is sacred to the Navajo people. To name a highway after Trump is like putting salt into an open wound.”
In his final months in office, former President Barack Obama issued a proclamation establishing Bears Ears as a 1.35-million-acre national monument in San Juan County, Utah. A year later, in December 2017, President Trump issued a proclamation slashing 85 percent of the land from Bears Ears and creating two smaller national monuments.
The Navajo Nation, along with four other tribes with ancestral ties to Bears Ears, is suing the federal government, challenging Trump’s authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to reduce or rescind national monuments. President Begaye twice this year has testified against H.R. 4532, a federal bill introduced by Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, that would codify Trump’s proclamation and reduce the size of Bears Ears to about 200,000 acres.
“Naming a Utah highway after Trump after he has worked against us to protect our lands would be an insult,” Vice President Jonathan Nez said. “We urge Utah lawmakers to oppose this.”
The Oljato Chapter, which neighbors both Grand Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments, also opposes the bill. In a Mar. 5 letter to Rep. Curtis, Oljato Chapter President James Adakai urged the U.S. representative to help block efforts to rename the highway after Trump.
“The highway goes through or to the five national parks in Utah as well as several national monuments,” the letter states. “All of it is land where Native Americans have lived for millennia, and President Trump has not shown respect for Native Nations.”
Adakai asks that lawmakers consider naming the highway after Native heroes, such as Ernst Yazhe, a Navajo Code Talker who died in 2016 in Salt Lake City at age 92.
The Donald J. Trump Utah National Parks Highway would follow a 650-mile route that includes several roads that meander around and through Zion, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Arches and Canyonlands national parks. It also includes parts of I-15, U.S. 191 and U.S. 89, connecting Crescent Junction (north of Moab) to the Arizona-Utah border near Big Water.
H.B. 481 also would require the Utah Department of Transportation to install signage along the route to reflect the name change.