Obama could still save Bears Ears

Cedar Mesa, one of the estimated 100,000 archaeological sites in the proposed Bears Ears monument
Cedar Mesa, one of the estimated 100,000 archaeological sites in the proposed Bears Ears monument

Former Senator and U.S. Representative Mark Udall argues President Obama could still set aside the “Bears Ears” National Monument:

The president has a rare opportunity to advance this proud tradition by protecting a spectacular area critical to our western heritage: Bears Ears, a 1.9 million-acre area in southern Utah replete with thousands of historic and cultural sites.

President Obama has already demonstrated his commitment to preserving and protecting unique public treasures for generations to come. He did so with Chimney Rock in southwest Colorado and again with Browns Canyon in Chaffee County. I was proud to champion both bipartisan efforts to protect these landscapes for future generations.

The president now has the chance to preserve lands vital to our nation’s heritage and history with the support of five Native American tribes whose heritage is memorialized in this area. He should utilize the Antiquities Act to protect the Bears Ears region in southeast Utah — a site that represents our western pioneering history and that of the tribal communities across the region, including the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.

Numerous Native American tribes trace their roots to Bears Ears. In fact, the strongest voices in favor of a designation have come from the Ute Mountain Ute, Hopi, Navajo, Uintah and Ouray Ute, and Zuni tribes. The site also is home to artifacts from pioneers who made a home in the American West.

One of the prominent natural features in the landscape is Jacob’s Chair, named after my great-great grandfather, Jacob Hamlin, who was known as the Mormon Pathfinder. Hamlin spent his life working tirelessly to resolve conflicts that arose between the newly arrived settlers and the deeply rooted Native American tribes and bands already living in the area. His vision encompassed a future where both groups lived and worked together collaboratively, respecting each other’s traditions and beliefs, and living in harmony with the land. A Bears Ears National Monument would be a 21st century investment in that vision.

  1. Mark Udall, Still time for President Obama to save Bears Ears, The Denver Post (Nov. 20, 2016).

New National Monument Proposal for the Bears Ears

The proposed Bears Ears national Monument would protect over 100,000 archaeological sites
The proposed Bears Ears national Monument would protect over 100,000 archaeological sites

A coalition of Native Americans has formed an Inter-Tribal Coalition to promote the designation of 1.9 million acres in Utah as a National Monument. The area contains granaries, rock art, burial sites, and many other important natural and historic sites. So its not surprising then that 26 tribes support protecting the area, which gets its name from these the two buttes which resemble a large bear. This area was described beautifully in Craig Childs’ excellent work on archaeology and heritage in the four corners region. Designation of the massive area would protect scores of ancient sites, burial sites, and pieces of rock art. An area which has suffered repeatedly at the hands of amateur archaeologists and later illicit looting.

President Obama seems to be taking a more open approach to the designation of the lands than Bill Clinton took when designating the nearby Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996. A July public hearing allowed members of the public a chance to voice their opinion to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell for nearly four hours. Writing about that meeting for High Country News, Jonathan Thompson reported:

Today’s crowd contains as many brown faces as it does white ones, a refreshing change from other such gatherings in the past. The land in question is an important part of contemporary Ute and Navajo history, and members of those tribes continue to use it for wood-, herb- and piñon-gathering. The pueblos here — including the Bluff Great House that’s just a stone’s throw from today’s hearing — were inhabited on-and-off from the 9th to the 13th centuries by the ancestors of today’s Zuni, Hopi and Rio Grande Pueblo people. And the Bears Ears and other landmarks on this landscape are considered to be important religious sites.

That, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye tells Jewell in the hearing, is why his tribal government supports a national monument. “We relate to them (the Bears Ears) like an Anglo relates to a family member,” he says. Begaye’s tribe, along with the Hopi, Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute, and Ute tribe, overcame historic antagonism to join together to form the coalition that’s pushing for the monument. That’s unprecedented, as is their proposed management structure: a committee of eight, including one representative from each tribe, and one representative each from the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. 

“It’s been far too long that us Natives have not been at the table,” says Malcolm Lehi, the Ute Mountain Ute council representative from the White Mesa community, just up the road from Bluff. “Here we are today inviting ourselves to the table. We’re making history.” 

The proposal and coalition has the support of six of the seven Navajo chapters in Utah, at least two-dozen additional tribes and the National Congress of American Indians, along with a host of environmental groups and more than 700 archaeologists.

But there is a long history of entrenched private property owners in the southwest that often resist these efforts, as demonstrated by Utah’s two members of the House: Continue reading “New National Monument Proposal for the Bears Ears”