As elected officials representing our five tribes, we are disappointed that Utah’s congressional delegation continues to misrepresent the position of our tribes and our tribal members, as they did in their Jan. 24 opinion piece in the Deseret News. We support Bears Ears National Monument, we advocated for its designation as a national monument, and we will defend it using our nation-to-nation relationship with the federal government. While some among our tribal members in Utah may oppose the new monument, it seems their opposition is rooted in misrepresentations of fact that continue to originate from the Utah delegation itself.
Our proposal to President Obama, and his resulting action, did exactly as those who oppose Bears Ears National Monument claim to seek. President Obama’s proclamation language is clear and easy to understand — it guarantees access, and the collection of herbs, medicines and firewood in perpetuity. To suggest that our tribes would advocate against the interests of our tribal members, or that we have been duped by environmentalists, is beyond insulting — it continues the unconscionable racism that we have experienced for hundreds of years.
Bears Ears National Monument is something new — it is not Natural Bridges, designated in 1908, and it will not be managed by the National Park Service. For the first time in American law, Native American traditional knowledge was written into a monument proclamation as both a value to be preserved by Bears Ears Monument and a resource to be used in its future management. This is a victory for Native American sovereignty, and will make a real difference on the land. It will also encourage responsible economic development for local communities as people from all over the world come to see this remarkable place, to learn from it and to learn about our cultures.
When Utah’s delegation says: “As a congressional delegation, we value our public lands, and we want to do everything we can to protect them. Bears Ears is no exception,” they ignore their own history and their own actions. Utah’s members of Congress had every opportunity to work together with our tribes to protect Bears Ears, but they could not see past their own agendas that threaten the health of Utah’s public lands to enter a real, thoughtful and serious discussion on the future of Bears Ears. President Obama was forced to act — by their inaction.
Now, Utah’s congressional delegation seeks not to preserve Bears Ears, but to actively block its protection. They will stand in the way of progress, they say, by restricting badly needed funding to better manage irreplaceable cultural resources and by supporting ill-advised litigation to remove the monument. But Bears Ears is now on the map, more visitors are coming, and their further efforts to undo what has been done will only harm Bears Ears.
Bears Ears National Monument is a reality. It is broadly supported — by our five tribes, by more than 25 other Southwestern tribes, and by the more than 250 additional tribes of the National Congress of American Indians. More than 224,000 American citizens signed petitions in support of President Obama’s action, and many of our tribal members in San Juan County support Bears Ears as well. Thousands upon thousands of people across America are celebrating Bears Ears National Monument because Bears Ears has something for everyone. There are many stories to be told about everyone’s shared history here — native and non-native alike.
We call upon Utah’s leaders to lead — to set aside their quibbles over the method of protection, to stop deepening the divisions among their constituents, and to help us set to work. We are moving forward together with all Utahns to chart a course for our shared future. We are selecting our Bears Ears management commission members, gathering knowledge from our spiritual and cultural leaders, and we are ready to begin healing. It is time for the Utah delegation to rise to the challenge offered by their positions of leadership. Respectfully, we ask that everyone join us in coming together to fulfill the promise of Bears Ears National Monument.
Carleton Bowekaty is a Zuni tribal councilman and co-chairman of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, a partnership of the Hopi, Navajo, Uintah and Ouray Ute, Ute Mountain Ute and Zuni governments.