A coalition of tribal groups and House Democrats are calling on the state to give Native Americans a better seat at the table when making policy decisions.
They’re asking the governor to elevate the director of the Division of Indian Affairs to a cabinet-level position — similar to neighboring states like Arizona and New Mexico.
Virgil Jonson, chairman of the Utah Tribal Leaders Association, said the Indian Affairs Division currently sits as a secondary level, beneath the state’s Department of Heritage and Arts.
“That’s not enough," he said at a press conference at the state Capitol on Tuesday. "I think that’s somewhat of a tokenism, if I can use that word. It doesn’t give enough significance — importance — for the Native Americans in the state of Utah.”
Rep. Mark Wheatley, D-Salt Lake, says he also plans to propose changing the Legislature’s Native American Liaison Committee to a standing committee. That would mean they could meet more frequently and help shape new legislation.
James Singer, a co-founder of the Utah League of Native American voters, said for too long, the state had disenfranchised tribes by not engaging with them on significant issues.
“Being kept away from the decision-making processes is a policy more befitting of the 19th century than the 21st," he said. "States and the federal government aren’t the only actors in federalism.”