Kill the Phil Bill
San Juan County Residents Say, ‘Kill the “Phil Bill”’
A segregation bill that would split San Juan County
For Immediate Release: February 7, 2019
Contact – Alastair Lee Bitsóí: (917) 202-8308
SALT LAKE CITY – House Bill 93 attempts to allow a minority of voters to eliminate 62 years of voting rights gains in San Juan County by segregating it into a white half and a Native American half.Representative Phil Lymansuggests that the federal government, Tribes, and the U.S. judicial system has intentionally set out to disenfranchise white citizens in San Juan County, and he is not waiting to see what Native-led government will look like before exploring ways out. Even though, it has only been two weeks, Mr. Lyman and other non-Native citizens from San Juan County are worried that they will receive the same kind of treatment by the new Native American-majority San Juan County Commission, that the white power brokers have administered against Native Americans for the past 120 years. Even though, there is no basis for holding this fear.
The proposed legislation, HB 93, officially named the “County Formation Amendments,” and colloquially dubbed “the Phil Bill” was introduced by Rep. Kim Coleman. This bill will be up for a vote in the House side of the Utah Legislature todayor Friday, Feb. 8. The bill allows a minority of county citizens to form a new county without input from the residents left behind.
Disenfranchisement is something Diné, Ute, Pueblo and other Native citizens in San Juan County know well, says Mark Maryboy, UDB Board Member. “They are mad after losing all the lawsuits against Navajos and now they want to split the county,” Maryboy said of the rampant structural racism that exists in San Juan County. “We have suffered and struggled against their racial discriminations, ever-since the county government was established, but we never asked the legislature to split the county.”
An independent report assessing discrimination within San Juan County was carried out in 2015, which found most local citizens agreed there is a problem.Perhaps because the tables have turned through the democratic electoral process, Native Americans are experiencing a severe and prejudiced backlash as can be seen in how Willie Grayeyes is being treated, and the desperate measures officials like Mr. Lyman are willing to pursue to maintain power. According to Coleman’s HB 93, the Utah Code would be amended to eliminate the requirement of a “majority vote in the remaining part of an existing county to create a new county.”
“We did the best we could to work within the system for years,” Maryboy said, alluding to how 40 percent of people in Native communities still lack running water and electricity under the former commission.
According to UDB’s “Erasure from Maps Memo,” released today, reservation communities like those in the Navajo Nation and Ute Mountain Ute are not “communit(ies) of interest.” This memo asks why the ten Native American communities in San Juan County rarely appear on maps, while white communities do. It asks why towns like Oljato, Utah which is bigger than Green River, Utah gets erased, even while white towns like La Sal (population 339) are given ink. Current maps also exhibit the perspective of the Lyman’s of the world by assuming that traditional patterns of settlement do not daeserve to be allowed to govern and should not be served by modern amenities like roads, water, electricity, cellular and internet.
Maryboy went on to say that the “Phil Bill,” HB 93 should be halted, and cited how a University of Utah study years ago explored this idea of splitting the county, but those findings deemed the action unfeasible, he said.
“Native Americans for far too long have lived in a constant state of fear in San Juan County, Utah. First, Bears Ears National Monument, and subsequently, constitutionally compliant voting districts became a beacon of hope for our future. Something must be done to improve the quality of life for Indigenous peoples, and put an end to the death tolls caused by uranium mining and extractive industries that have killed Indigenous families,” added Honor Keeler, who is Cherokee and serves as UDB’s assistant director. “Despite frivolous lawsuits that have wasted County money to challenge the majority vote, two Native American Commissioners now represent the people of San Juan County for the first time in its history.”
Keeler added that the battle against racism is not over. Coleman and Lyman in HB 93 threaten to undermine the majority vote of the county—over 50% of which is Native American—and segregate the county (including votes, services, and wealth/ poverty) into two separate counties, whereby a newly proposed county with the majority of services would have a white majority.
The towns of Monticello and Blanding have been built, in part, by siphoning tens of millions of dollars of Utah Navajo oil revenues to build off-reservation community projects to service Navajo and white community members alike. That loophole to spend Navajo dollars off-reservation was similarly shepherded through U.S. Congress like this bill, without input or concern from the Native American community members of San Juan County.
“HB 93 seeks to disenfranchise Native Americans, prevent us from governing, and stop us from pursuing our right of self-determination. Racism in San Juan County needs to end. Segregation will not stand. Defeat HB 93,” Keeler said.
Alastair Lee Bitsóí, MPH
Utah Diné Bikéyah