Governor seeks cooperation with Native American tribes

OREM, Utah -- At his annual Native American Summit, Gov. Gary Herbert pledged support to provide educational, healthcare and employment opportunities to Utah's tribes.

The summit, founded by Gov. Herbert when he was Lt. Governor 13 years ago, also focused on youth, economic development and justice issues.

Governor Gary Herbert participates in a Bear Dance at the Native American Summit. (Image by Pete Deluca, FOX 13 News)

"The unique challenges we have of a sovereign nation inside a sovereign state inside a sovereign nation are real," Gov. Herbert told FOX 13.

Following a speech to a crowd of hundreds at Utah Valley University on Tuesday, Gov. Herbert met privately with tribal leaders for several hours to discuss a number of issues. FOX 13 is told jobs and roads were big topics.

"He wants to go forward with government to government relationships," said Richard Graymountain with the San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe, who asked the governor for help to expand the tribe's boundaries in Utah with new land.

Gov. Herbert said the meeting is important to hear the concerns.

"We have ups and downs. We have issues that come up," he said.

The summit comes at an interesting time in tribal relations. Most recently, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes announced the state was contemplating jumping into a lawsuit between the Ute Tribe and the federal government. The tribe is laying claim to nearly two million acres of land in eastern Utah known as the "Uncompahgre" and seeking a billion in reparations.

"I do have concerns," Gov. Herbert told FOX 13 about the litigation. "But we need to do what we need to protect all Utahns."

The Ute Tribe did not have leadership attending the summit on Tuesday, but  has previously warned the state to stay out of the lawsuit. The governor said it is his hope the courts settle the matter, and it doesn't negatively affect Utah's relationship with the tribe.

"I don't want it to get in the way of other efforts we're trying to do, or for it to get in the way of our other relationships with the Ute Tribe," he said.

Navajo Nation leaders are also at odds with the state over President Trump's decision to shrink Bears Ears National Monument.

"Me and the governor... we don't see eye to eye on some issues," Davis Filfred, a member of the Navajo Nation Council, told FOX 13. "This is one of them."

Filfred said he also discussed the racial gerrymandering lawsuit the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission has been pursuing against San Juan County. A federal judge found county commission and school board boundaries were gerrymandered to make Native Americans a political minority and ordered new elections this year. The county is appealing it.

"We're in constant litigation," Filfred said. "I was telling the governor, this needs to stop."

A drum group performs during the Governor's Native American Summit on Tuesday, July 17, 2018. (Image by Pete Deluca, FOX 13 News)

The councilman said Gov. Herbert floated an idea that in the future, county commission seats could all become "at large" positions. Filfred said it was something to consider.

Overall, tribal leaders said, they enjoy a pretty good relationship with the governor.

"Politics is politics and at the end of the day, we're still elected leaders," Filfred said. "We're still friends, I hope."

The summit runs through Wednesday.