A major Native American site is being looted. Will Obama risk armed confrontation to save it?
The Washington Post,
RIM OF CEDAR MESA, Utah — For centuries, humans have used the red sandstone canyons here as a way to mark their existence.
First came archaic hunter-gatherers who worked in Glen Canyon Linear, a crude geometrical style dating back more than 3,500 years. Then about 2,000 years later, early ancestral Pueblo farmers of the Basketmaker period used more subtle lines to produce a man in headdress. A little more than 700 years ago came their descendants, who used the same kind of hard river stone to make drawings of bighorn sheep and a flute player in the ancient rock.
Now, President Obama is weighing whether and how he can leave his own permanent imprint on history by designating about 2 million acres of land, known as the Bears Ears, as a national monument.
And despite the uniformly acknowledged historical significance of the area, some people regard the conservation efforts by the White House as classic federal overreach. In the current-era conflict between Washington and rural Westerners, the idea of a Bears Ears national monument has produced warnings of a possible armed insurrection.
In a state where the federal government owns 65 percent of the land, many conservatives already resent existing restrictions because they bar development that could generate additional revenue. Out-of-state militias came to San Juan County two years ago, when Commissioner Phil Lyman helped lead an all-terrain-vehicle protest ride through a canyon the Bureau of Land Management had closed to motorized traffic in 2007. Lyman is appealing the 10-day jail sentence he received in connection with the protest, and he argues that his case shows how BLM officials place the priorities of environmentalists over those of local residents.
“I would hope that my fellow Utahans would not use violence, but there are some deeply held positions that cannot just be ignored,” Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, the veteran Republican lawmaker, said in an interview.
Cedar Mesa is one of the best preserved and most archeologically rich sites in the United States. The dry climate and rock overhangs have protected important artifacts for millennia, and there are tens of thousands of ancient objects and structures preserved, including ones in which the original wood beams in cliff dwellings remain intact. In a granary where the Pueblo people kept maize, a single dried cob lies on a dusty floor.
But some lawmakers have suggested that unilateral action by the president, under the 1906 Antiquities Act, could provoke the same sort of resistance that led to the 41-day armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon earlier this year.
“There is a lot of conflict that has escalated into being on the precipice of violence that is unnecessary and unwarranted,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz
(R-Utah), who opposes the designation.