The president did the right thing: Bears Ears National Monument
By Stephen Trimble, December 28, 2016, LA Times Op-Ed
President Obama deserves our gratitude for designating the rich natural and cultural treasure of the Bears Ears region in southeastern Utah as a national monument. He had to think big. In granting 1.35 million acres of federal land new, needed protections, he preserved for the future a place of learning, grandeur, sanctuary, and healing.
Against political headwinds, Obama used the executive power inherent in the Antiquities Act of 1906 — the same legislation that initially protected four of Utah’s “Mighty Five” national parks. Arches, Zion, Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef were all presidential-proclamation monuments first; Canyonlands was created as a park by Congress.
The president acted on behalf of our children and grandchildren, on behalf of the last canyon treefrogs singing in Slickhorn Gulch along the San Juan River, on behalf of the Navajo medicine man gathering herbs on the forested mesas of the Bears Ears. His action will be a boon to Utah’s rural economy.
For Native people, these canyons and mesas aren’t “desert” or “wilderness” or “destination.” These redrock labyrinths are home. For millennia, people have woven cultural identity into this ground. Artifacts, ruins and rock art from the Ancestral Puebloans carry essential messages to the Hopi and Zuni of our time and to all of us.
For the first time in conservation history, the primary advocates for this new national monument were Native American tribes. In October 2015, the Navajo, Ute Mountain, Hopi, Zuni, and Ute nations presented the Obama administration with a proposal to preserve and co-manage public lands they consider sacred. The full membership of the National Congress of American Indians supported them. Remarkably, given the history of Indian people and the United States, the government listened.
By establishing this national monument, Obama has protected canyons actively consecrated and blessed by Native prayers, living libraries of indigenous traditional knowledge. All of us, Indian and non-Indian, will deepen our relationships with “home” as we come to know this landscape.
As Willie Grayeyes of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition put it, “protecting Bears Ears is not just about healing for the land and Native people. It’s for our adversaries to be healed too. I truly believe we can all come out dancing together.”
President Obama also established Gold Butte National Monument on Wednesday, at the western edge of the Grand Canyon in Nevada, taking advantage of another opportunity to protect rich archaeological resources from relentless vandalism and amplifying the vision of co-management by tribes, this time with the Moapa Paiute people.
Read full story here.
Photo: A portion of the proposed Bears Ears region, along the Colorado River, in southeastern Utah. (Francisco Kjolseth / Associated Press)
Salt Lake City writer Stephen Trimble is editor of the forthcoming “Red Rock Stories: Three Generations of Writers Speak on Behalf of Utah’s Public Lands.”