The San Rafael Swell is one of the most remarkable places I have seen in Utah. Its formations induce a sense of awe and wonder and it stands out as one of the most unique places on our planet. I’m captivated by its geology, it biodiversity, and the connection I feel to spirituality and creation.
I know many people are upset about the bill proposed that on the surface seems to protect some areas of beauty, but upon further analysis does not adequately protect the landscapes that we care about most. In fact, many of us are deeply troubled with how destructive uses may permanently alter the area leaving it unapproachable to people for the rest of time.
I wish to convey a more broad perspective about how we should view policymaking and how that can then be applied to the San Rafael Swell.
There are certain set of values and ideas that inform the basis of what our society should look like and the kinds of rules, both formal and informal, that will help us maintain our values. These are democracy and democratic participation, stewardship, humility, social and mutual responsibility, reciprocity and relationality, a connection to the divine, protection, empathy, respect, and connection to each other and the environment.
The values seem to have been given little thought and superficially at best. When looking at the process, I cannot help but ask, “Who have been the stakeholders that have the most say and power in setting policy? How have this power arrangement helped to advance democracy or hinder it? And are there other motives for how this arrangement looks that supersedes the value set I have outlined earlier?
The process has been limited to a few set of people who have motives to exploit the region and reallocate public resources for personal enrichment. One of the first rules to grow power and maintain inequality is to limit democracy and our participation in it. While we have seen certain stakeholders invited to state their views and interests, like some local leaders and mineral extraction industries, the people at large have been vilified. Where is our voice? Where is the voice for the indigenous peoples whose land was illegally stolen? Where is the voice who see this land as something sacred?
The value system that seems to be employed is one based on exploitation, selfishness, and greed, where economic pursuits are privileged over the rest of society’s institutions.
In my Navajo philosophical beliefs, we are living upon the Fourth World. Our earth is a living being. She gives life to all things. The land is her flesh, from it sprouts food. The air is her breath. The water is her blood. These give life to us human beings and we have a responsibility to maintain a balanced relationship with her, that when we care for her, she will care for us. She has the ability to heal herself, but her perception of time is not always synchronized with the human perception of time. Depending on the gravity of harm we inflict upon her, it may take thousands or millions of years to recuperate, long after the human race has passed. In essence, we are mere guests upon her and our existence is very much predicated upon how well we can adapt to the environmental conditions that we have to confront.
Currently, our postindustrial and consumerist-based society is quickly depleting the resources of the earth faster than we can replenish them. We leave giant scars upon the face of the earth, leave toxicity in our wake, and threaten the existence of not only our lives as human beings, but all of life on this earth. Creation can be a very fragile thing in the vastness of the universe.
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we hold the environment and all of creation as one of our most sacred teachings. In our temples, where we learn our most sacred truths, the Creation of the Earth and all life upon her, and indeed the whole universe, is the first topic we learn about. That is why I find it so perplexing that my co-religionists in Congress have so blatantly cast aside those foundational teachings.
Church leaders, present and past, have spoken strongly about our relationship with the environment:
Spencer W. Kimball : “When I pass through the lovely countryside or fly over the vast and beautiful expanses of our globe, I compare these beauties with many of the dark and miserable practices of men, and I have the feeling that the good earth can hardly bear our presence upon it. ... The Brethren constantly cry out against that which is intolerable in the sight of the Lord: against pollution of mind, body and our surroundings.”
Ezra Taft Benson: “Surely you can see the inconsistency in the individual who insists that we be good stewards and not pollute our environment, and yet who is unscrupulous in his personal life. Again, physical and spiritual laws are interrelated. Pollution of one's environment and moral impurity both rest on a life-style which partakes of a philosophy of ‘eat, drink, and be merry’ — gouge and grab now, without regard to the consequences. Both violate the spirit of stewardship for which we will stand accountable.”
“Stewardship in the Church is a very important matter. The Lord has mentioned it in the revelations. We are stewards over these earthly blessings which the Lord has provided, those of us who have this soil and this water. We have no moral latitude, it seems to me. In fact, we are morally obligated to turn this land over to those who succeed us — not drained of its fertility but improved in quality, in productivity, and in usefulness for future generations.”
Russell M. Nelson, current President of the LDS Church: “As beneficiaries of the divine Creation, what shall we do? We should care for the earth, be wise stewards over it, and preserve it for future generations. And we are to love and care for one another.”
It is my contention that we use our government, that is by us, for us, and of us, to protect this beautiful land, that we maintain its status as public, that we guard and care for our Mother Earth and use her resources in a measured way that gives succor to the poor and needy, not to enrich the pockets of greedy and selfish men. We must live up to the promise of democracy and ensure the blessings of these lands to ourselves now and to the seven generations to come.
Change is coming, this is our movement. We are standing to defend our rights and the rights of all creation. We reject this bill and are taking the power back to the people.
It’s common among Natives to say that the Indian Wars have never really ended. To an outsider, that may be a strange thing to hear, even humorous. But if the wars were ways to subdue Native people through violence, intimidation, and laws that keep them in a perpetual oppressed and subordinate station, then we can see that they are still being waged, only the tactics have changed.
Racism in 2018 doesn’t look like what it did in 1960. Our education helps us to identify what racism used to look like and hopefully not to repeat it and reject it if it surfaces. But racism is dynamic. It’s adaptive. It changes with the times and seasons, but the principles remain: that one group is superior in one or multiple ways, that systems have been built around that group to ensure they maintain power, that ideologies are constructed to justify this arrangement and normalize it, and that subordinate racial and ethnic groups are kept from experiencing equality at multiple levels and across various social institutions. Where one technique fails, a new one often emerges to replace it. And for the most part, the vast majority of us are unaware of its existence and how it manifests itself. We are rendered racially illiterate.
Enter San Juan County.
The Native peoples in this corner of Utah have endured oppression and racism long after the rest of the country has tried to move forward. For most people in the rest of the United States, the idea of voter suppression seems a relic of the past and it is equally strange to hear that an elected county official committed illegal actions to keep a person of color from running for office. But this is the long and painful reality of a people who have long been denied justice.
San Juan County Clerk, John Nielson, deliberately and forcefully broke the law to ensure that Mr. Willie Grayeyes, a Navajo, would never see his name on the ballot. And that despite the efforts of the courts to undo racially gerrymandered county commissioner districts, the oppression would continue and the intimidation persist. The objective was that in no way would Natives be allowed to seat a majority on the county commission.
This is a despicable act. It is tragic. It’s disappointing and frustrating. It’s undemocratic. And this has everything to do with race.
Isn’t it enough that settlers come in, take the Native peoples’ land, lay claim to their resources, impose a government and economy that systematically disenfranchises them, silence and ignore their voices, and then have the audacity to make the claim that it is somehow their own fault for their condition?
The answer: No. It’s not enough.
It very much appears that the old guard will fight every step of the way, make it as difficult as possible for justice to prevail, and feign victimhood as if they are the ones somehow being oppressed. They will push every small act they can to make it as difficult as possible for any semblance of equality to materialize. This is a textbook example of corruption, the manifestation of authoritarian tendencies, and a very real threat to democracy. So what is to be done?
There are calls and will be more for Mr. Nielson to resign his office. And frankly, that is the least thing he can do. He should be tried for his crimes. I would lay the challenge to him to examine the basic precepts of democracy and leadership, and perhaps one day, become an advocate for equality after he pays his debt to society. Maybe that is wishful thinking on my part, but I believe that people can change. It would definitely be something both our peoples would need for healing.
In the meantime, the movement towards justice will continue pressing forward. The power accumulated over time in this forgotten corner of Utah has gone unchecked long enough and we will be watching.
We will watch to see that polling locations are open, accessible, and functioning with enough ballots for voters.
We will watch to see that there will be in-person assistance, along with materials and election information in the Navajo language as protected and assured by law.
We will watch to see if the county will find ways to engage in voter suppression.
These aren’t empty threats to instill fear or to intimidate. These are basic and fundamental rights that all Americans are entitled to under the Constitution. We simply want to assure that our democracy functions as it should.
I was pleased by the resiliency and poise of Mr. Grayeyes when I met with him yesterday: “People tell me I should strike back right now, but why would I do that? If I get into office, the people who I would go after will be the people I will serve later on,” he said. “We need to show healing. We need to treat the root of the problem, not just cover up the symptoms temporarily.”
So to the elected leaders of San Juan County, I implore you to be proactive in bringing about the ideals this nation is founded upon: equality, justice, freedom, and democracy. Stop putting roadblocks in the way of helping us overcome and bridge the divides of the past. That is real leadership. Rise to the challenge.
I am so very pleased to learn that Willie Grayeyes is again on the ballot for this November running for a county commissioner seat. The history of San Juan County is such that, until only recently, racial gerrymandering had been a consistent and detrimental practice. And while the court ruling to change the boundaries was an important first step towards equality and democracy, I cannot help but notice how eliminating this undemocratic practice has been fought against every step of the way. And it will continue to be fought until election day. The fight for democracy is not over now that Mr. Grayeyes is back on the ballot, but it was a good victory and a much-needed one. Congrats, Willie!
What matters now, is how we go forward. We still need every Native person to register and re-register to vote. The way the county had set up voter registration for Natives in the past was highly suspect — as were voting locations to cast ballots. We are watching, along with many others, that the election is free from the corruption of the past. And as voters, we have to make sure we’re ready to go. We have to make sure we show up and vote. We are making history right now, but we need to keep pushing forward to make sure it’s a history of positive change.
For many people in San Juan County, this will be the first time they ever vote. It will also be the first time they can vote for a Native for U.S. Congress. For those of us outside of San Juan County, let’s make sure their votes count by stepping up and voting. We can become more than the sum of our parts!
We need to share with others our vision of a country that is based on empathy and social responsibility, of a government that protects its people and the environment, and empowers all of us, not just those at the top who can buy it. We have a vision that is clear: we want a country that is based on democracy — one that is of the people, by the people, and for the people.
This election, the choice is clear: we continue to travel a path towards authoritarianism and massive inequality, of limited freedoms, a destroyed environment, and systemic racism or we act now to correct our course and strive towards the promise of democracy, towards equality, of broad prosperity and freedom, and a sustainable future. We do not need to succumb to fear. We can hope for a better society today.
-- James Courage Singer
For Media Inquiries
James in the News
Here you'll find articles about James' work in the community and news on his political endeavors.
Aug. 17, 2018 | KZMU Moab: News Earful with 3rd District Candidate James Singer
Aug. 16, 2018 | Moab Times-Independent: Meet James Singer
Aug. 16, 2018 | Moab Sun News: James Singer campaigns in Moab
Aug. 15, 2018 | KUER (NPR Affiliate): Navajo Candidate James Singer Highlights Bears Ears In Run For Congress
Aug. 1, 2018 | KBOO Portland: From Shrinking Bears Ears, Approving Pipelines, and Pocahontas: What Trump Means to Indian Country
Jul. 23, 2018 | Millennial Politics: These Three Indigenous Democratic Congressional Candidates Want to #AbolishICE
Jul. 16, 2018 | Two Broads Talking Politics: The Utah Democrats
Jul. 16, 2018 | Millennial Politics: James Singer: Indigenous Environmentalist Democratic Socialist for Congress in Utah's 3rd
Jul. 12, 2018 | Indian Country Today: A plan for Indian nations and democracy in the 21st century: Indian Country should have fair representation in Congress; that's the democratic promise.
Jun. 24, 2018 | Salt Lake Tribune: Commentary: As the Democrat in the race, I'd rather debate Curtis.
Apr. 9, 2018 | Salt Lake Tribune: Commentary: Sexual violence and harassment are men’s issues. And they’re leadership issues. Rep. John Curtis shows a lack of leadership on a serious issue.
Mar. 6, 2018 | Salt Lake Tribune: To ‘help forge our path of healing forward’ after Bears Ears, Utah tribal leaders are asking for a place on the governor’s cabinet.
Mar. 6, 2018 | KUER: Tribal Groups, House Dems Call For Creation Of Indian Affairs Cabinet Position
Oct. 9, 2017 | Salt Lake Tribune: American Indians gather to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Salt Lake City
Oct. 3, 2017 | City Weekly: SL Council Welcomes Indigenous Peoples Day
Sep. 18, 2017 | UPR: The Wellsville Sham Battle On Monday's Access Utah
Sep. 6, 2017 | Salt Lake Tribune: It’s 2017, but people in Utah still put on ‘redface’ for an inaccurate re-creation of an American Indian vs. Mormon battle
Jun. 8, 2017 | The Daily Universe: Navajo man seeks Senate diversity, challenges Hatch
May 5, 2017 | KUER: Navajo Candidate Latest In Young, Progressive Democrats Running For Congress
May 4, 2017 | Salt Lake Tribune: Navajo candidate announces bid as Democrat for Hatch's seat
Apr. 27, 2017 | Cache Valley Daily: Navajo candidate announces bid for U.S. Senate
Jan. 27, 2017 | City Weekly: "Make America Smart Again" Water protectors congregate to denounce Trump's DAPL reignition
Jan. 17, 2017 | Salt Lake Tribune: It's 'more than just clean water now': Utah activists protest Dakota Access Pipeline
Oct 31, 2016 | FOX 13: Police make several arrests in Dakota Access Pipeline protest in SLC
Oct. 12, 2015 | UPR: Cultural Appropriation on Monday's Access Utah