As we await newly minted Secretary Ryan Zinke’s visit to our treasured part of the world, I have to wonder, is he truly getting the correct information about the Bears Ears National Monument forced upon Utahns?
Secretary Zinke and I have in common the honor of serving our great country in the military. During my deployments to the war in Iraq in 2003 and 2005 with the U.S. Marines, the thing that we valued above all and saved lives was proper communication. We had to get the right information to the right people to make the right decisions. Therefore, it is my duty to my country, my homeland and to my fellow Native Americans to provide the correct information to Secretary Zinke of why Bears Ears National Monument is not the right decision.
Elders taught us plenty. They hold a special thing that resonates with many people, and that’s the gift of perspective. Through their eyes, one can see how the hands of federal supervision created certain mistrust. My dear Grandma Betty Jones taught me that over-reliance on federal management caused many intergenerational problems Native Americans still have to this day. She’d know, she is one of the few remaining, living examples of government relocation from the Glen Canyon Dam area. Native people had to tragically pass through a terrible history to understand what “federal management” means.
As a result, nearly all of San Juan County’s natives sat in a Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing in Blanding, Utah, last summer. They spoke to our elected Utah leaders about why another national monument was the wrong answer to protecting lands we all share. Why incorporate a national monument when there are already existing federal protections for the land for every single reason that creating a monument was called for?
With all these levels of protection, how did the monument still happen? Years ago, out-of-state business organizations and radical environmental groups tried to implement a “wilderness area” — the legislative equivalent to a national monument. The boundary proposal was suspiciously the exact dimensions as what Bears Ears National Monument is today. At the time, former San Juan County Commissioner Mark Maryboy (who is now wholeheartedly joined at the hip with monument pushers) venomously disagreed with such a horrid proposal. So much to even say, “I oppose any wilderness designation. Wilderness designation just creates another National Park Service and the BLM is just another BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs).” Now we wonder, whatever happened to Maryboy’s legitimate distrust?
Native Americans living near Bears Ears have remained as distrustful of any wilderness-monument type designation because it creates another oppressive controlling systemic government-run entity, like the BIA. Our people’s distrust of more government hasn’t change one bit. Still, a national monument was unfairly pushed on San Juan County natives by out-of-state organizations, such as the outdoor retail industry, which showed its true intentions when it decided to make a spectacle of its exit of the Outdoor Retailer show.
Information is pivotal. Information in this instance reflects a sense of renewed faith in local native stewardship when the state of Utah passed a resolution in support of fully rescinding the Bears Ears National Monument. Therefore, it was a cause for celebration when news spread that Gov. Gary Herbert signed the resolution for our disenfranchised native people who were scared to enter the monument for wood gathering.
Native Americans are fully aware of our living history and ties to the lands we’ve managed for eons. Our culture will not be hijacked and will not be made to believe that a national monument is the only way we can ever preserve our cultural heritage. As a fellow veteran to Secretary Zinke, it is my duty in this moment in time to convey a much more realistic perspective of how a Native American of Utah truly views this unwarranted Bears Ears National Monument designation.
Ryan Benally is Vice Chairman of the Stewards of San Juan County and a lifelong Native American resident of San Juan County, Utah.