SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Tribal leaders in Utah want lawmakers to elevate the state's small Division of Indian Affairs into a separate department that includes an appointed position on the governor's cabinet.

The lobbying comes three months after the Trump administration downsized Bears Ears National Monument by about 85 percent against the wishes of a coalition of Utah tribes that initially fought for the designation.

Braidan Weeks with the tribal coalition Dine Bikeyah says the proposed cabinet-level position is meant to "elevate natives and native voices" on a variety of subjects including health care and education, The Salt Lake Tribune reports .

Tribal leaders meet only twice a year with the governor and the Division of Indian Affairs has only three employees and an annual budget of $328,000 that is quickly spent traveling to the remote reservations in the state, said Virgil Johnson, a councilman for the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation.

Being housed in the state's Department of Heritage and Arts perpetuates the stereotype that American Indians are historic relics, he said. "It doesn't give enough significance and importance to Native Americans in the state of Utah," Johnson said.

Gov. Gary Herbert recognizes that issues relevant to the tribes "would benefit from meaningful reorganization," whether through a cabinet post or in the governor's senior staff, said Paul Edwards, the governor's deputy chief of staff.

Josh Loftin, spokesman for the Utah Department of Heritage and Arts, said he's not sure a position in the governor's cabinet will change much. He said everything the tribes want to do can be done under the current setup.

Utah state Rep. Mark Wheatley, a Democrat from Murray, proposed creating a standing legislative committee so the group could draft legislation and meet regularly. Reps. Joel Briscoe and Susan Duckworth, both Democrats, support the idea.

James Singer, co-founder of the Utah League of Native American Voters, said the change is vital.

"I've been told that my people, native people, will one day blossom as a rose in the desert, but I question how that can be possible when at every turn we are relentlessly blocked," Singer said. "Being kept away from the decision-making processes is policy more befitting the 19th century than the 21st."


Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune,