To save their homeland, 25 tribes unite in the Southwest

 

Native peoples in the Southwest take the long view. They have lived in the redrock canyons of the Colorado Plateau for 12,000 years and have shown astonishing resilience in the face of devastating change in the last 500 years. Now, they bring this ancestral perspective to the management of public lands in the canyons and mesas of southern Utah. 

For the first time in conservation history, the primary advocates for a new national monument are the tribes themselves. This historic Native coalition is trying to protect the wildlands that sweep southward from Canyonlands National Park toward the Navajo Nation. 

The tribes’ allies include travelers, hikers, and river-runners who don’t want to see oil rigs and endless networks of off-road vehicle tracks here. But the visitors who gaze awestruck across the buttes of Greater Canyonlands, who boat through the canyons of the San Juan River, and who stand enthralled by rock art and cliff dwellings on Cedar Mesa, may not realize how deeply all of these lands matter in the daily lives of Native people.

  • Ancestral Puebloan ruin, Cedar Mesa, inside the proposed Bears Ears National Monument, Utah.

  • Ancestral Puebloan ruin, Cedar Mesa, inside the proposed Bears Ears National Monument, Utah.

  • Needles Overlook, inside proposed Bears Ears National Monument, Utah.

  • Comb Ridge, Cedar Mesa, and the Abajo Mountains, part of the proposed Bears Ears National Monument, Utah.

  • Well rig below the Bears Ears Buttes, proposed Bears Ears National Monument, Utah.

  • Stephen Trimble

The tribes worked for six years with Utah congressmen to find common ground.  Native people sought joint stewardship of this landscape. In January, however, when Rep. Rob Bishop, Republican of Utah, revealed the details of a Public Lands Initiative he touted as a grand compromise, the tribes found his draft “woefully inadequate in addressing our needs in the areas of collaborative management and land preservation.”

For the Bears Ears Coalition, the unacceptable language in Bishop’s proposal confirmed the “inequitable treatment of tribes over the past three years and our need to seek other means of protecting the living cultural landscape we call Bears Ears.” The development proposals in Bishop’s Initiative have led coalition members to focus on President Obama, who could use the Antiquities Act to proclaim a Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah.  

Led by the Navajo, Ute Mountain, Hopi, Zuni, and Uintah and Ouray Ute nations, a coalition of 25 tribes has asked the president to preserve 1.9 million acres of public lands surrounding the Bears Ears buttes. The Intertribal Coalition proposes co-management of this monument through an eight-member commission. One person would come from each tribe, and one representative could come from each federal agency that manages land within the boundaries – the National Park Service, Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. 

The Native leaders emphasize community over commodity. As Eric Descheenie, Navajo co-chair of the Bears Ears Coalition, says, this land is a “who,” not a “what” or a “that.” It is a living land that Native people “relate to in a religious way,” loving the Bears Ears no differently than they would a family member. He emphasizes this “indigenous truth” as the foundation for all discussions about “healing, a people’s movement, and collaborative management.” 

Hopi Tribal Vice Chairman Alfred Lomahquahu Jr. calls this new approach a breakthrough for Native Americans. He sees it as a return to the original intent of the Antiquities Act and an approach that could serve as a template for national monuments elsewhere in the country. Co-management creates a new “tool of self-determination and sovereignty to benefit the tribes,” he said.

This extraordinary landscape deserves protection for all the reasons that we typically think of as imperatives — its ecological and wilderness values, all of which are threatened by destructive oil and gas development. Cedar Mesa, in the heart of the Bears Ears proposal, shelters more than 56,000 cultural sites that reach more than 12,000 years into the past. This unbroken cultural record makes this remote corner of southeastern Utah among the richest archaeological districts in the United States. Yet Bears Ears, the nation’s most significant unprotected cultural resource, is also starkly threatened today by vandals who ransack prehistoric graves.

For all of these reasons, the Bears Ear coalition has urged the president to act. By elevating these lands to national monument status, we protect canyons actively consecrated and blessed by Native prayers and preserve living libraries of indigenous traditional knowledge. All of us, Indian and non-Indian, would benefit as we come to know and participate in these sacred landscapes.      

As Willie Grayeyes of the Bears Ears Coalition puts it, the new monument would help us “come to the table of equality.” This historic Native vision of reconciliation and healing nourishes us all, and I hope the president acts boldly in response.

Stephen Trimble is a contributor to Writers on the Range, an opinion service of High Country News. He teaches writing at the University of Utah Honors College and is the author and photographer of The People: Indians of the American Southwest

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at betsym@hcn.org.

Steve Snyder
Steve Snyder Subscriber
Feb 17, 2016 11:53 AM
Nice piece. I've seen the particular ruin in Photo 1 and shot almost the exact same picture as in Photo 4.
Larry Gilson
Larry Gilson
Feb 19, 2016 05:00 PM
Quite an array of interests and motives here....it will be interesting to see how this all plays out!

Incidentally, Steve....if your eyes are still stuck rolled back in their sockets, you might be interested in this:

https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/[…]/transformingourworld

It's some tedious reading, but if you haven't already done so, check it out. Is this a "conspiracy?" I don't know, but the idea that so many people from all over the world really believe they can create an "utopian world" by following an agreed-upon formula makes me a bit nervous....to say it lightly. Note that this isn't a Fox News or Glenn Beck or any other ultra-conservative site! Read it and let me know what you think/sense.
Larry Gilson
Larry Gilson
Feb 19, 2016 05:01 PM
Excuse me, Steve, I meant, of course, "if your eyes 'aren't" still stuck back in your head."
Steve Snyder
Steve Snyder Subscriber
Feb 19, 2016 05:30 PM
Other than the "2030" of the UN dateline becoming the name of "Agenda 30," there's nothing "conspiratorial." My eyeballs remain stuck, and I'll probably unparticipate in another thread, Larry.

Note to HCN: GIven that you've not yet answered my "feedback" posting of two days ago, I'm also coming closer to not renewing my subscription.
Toby Thaler
Toby Thaler Subscriber
Feb 20, 2016 07:30 PM
Larry and Steve: It's not clear to me what you're saying. Do you think the agenda is wrong headed or inappropriate?

I find the goals to be mostly very well intentioned. The major exception is this from Goal 8: "Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth..." It is well established that this is physically impossible, not least because it violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics (entropy). It's amazing to me how "growth" has become such a god in our culture that we even put it into definitions of "sustainability." This fallacious thinking concerns me far more than conspiratorial ideations about the UN taking over the world etc.
Steve Snyder
Steve Snyder Subscriber
Feb 20, 2016 07:36 PM
Toby, first, from Cactus Ed: "Growth for growth's sake is the theology of the cancer cell."

That said, remember the earth is NOT a "closed system." Creationists like to invoke the Second Law of Thermodynamics to claim that evolution is impossible, ignoring the massive solar energy that bathes our planet.

That caveat said, I'm with you otherwise. I reject conspiracy thinking about the UN. (And, I'm OK with *sustainable* growth, which means moving away from fossil fuels. The sun's going to be pumping out solar energy for aeons to come.)

On another piece, I joked that, if Agenda 21 was about taking over our golf courses, Agenda 30 must be about the UN taking over our national wildlife refuges. Unfortunately, somebody probably actually believes that. Maybe Larry does?
Toby Thaler
Toby Thaler Subscriber
Feb 20, 2016 07:52 PM
Thanks, Steve. I prefer Herman Daly's moniker of sustainable "development" to replace the word "growth." The former accommodates improvement and replacement of existing systems; the latter assumes an endless increase in energy/material throughput in the economic system (society's "metabolism").

And yes, we are not a closed system in some respects (yes there will most likely be a steady input of solar energy for a couple or few billion years), but IMO for all practical purposes we are living in a very closed system. It seems highly likely we are at or near our peak status on the Kardashev scale (not quite Type I). Maybe with a smaller population we can reattain as high or higher a level but I suspect it will take a long time to get there (centuries to millennia).
Steve Snyder
Steve Snyder Subscriber
Feb 20, 2016 07:57 PM
Agreed that, in other things like heavy metals for industry and manufacturing, there's an Earth-limited supply, Toby. With you on that.

On pop growth? Given that the pope, many Muslim-majority nations and the BJP in India all oppose reining in population growth in various ways, it's going to be a tough sled. I'm with you on the ideal, but making it reality ain't going to be easy.
Toby Thaler
Toby Thaler Subscriber
Feb 21, 2016 12:11 AM
On limited resources, check out this obscure paper: http://www.geochemicalperspectives.org/[…]/v3n2.pdf

Tough sledding is a given. I haven't read a credible projection yet that indicates much else. You never know, but the odds look low.
Larry Gilson
Larry Gilson
Feb 21, 2016 12:51 AM
I don't know about the U.N. and the refuges, Steve...maybe. Yes, Toby, the goals are well-intentioned and certainly we would all enjoy the benefits of reaching them, but it's the means of getting there that concern me. Utopian dreams have a way of becoming ideologies which people and institutions adopt, identify with and become obsessed with. Since the goal is...well, utopia...any means of reaching it is easily justified. These kinds of movements almost always collapse from within through disagreement and power struggles and the end result is generally something very similar to, or worse than, the state that was being "improved upon." I think the Russian Revolution, for one, is worth remembering here.
As the saying goes, "you can't legislate morality", and a number of these goals are moral issues. Real change is coming...we are in the midst of it, but it won't come from any agreement, no matter how many nations are involved. It will come through individuals realizing one at a time that grabbing everything we can for ourselves does not ultimately get us anywhere, and that taking care of each other and of our home is always in our best interest...it is taking care of ourselves.
Steve Snyder
Steve Snyder Subscriber
Feb 21, 2016 09:44 AM
Just like "socialist" land for settlers in the 1862 Homestead Act and "socialist" water for irrigation in the 1902 Newlands Act was "taking care of ourselves." Got it. Everybody out west who hates "socialism" move east of the Mississippi, please.
Larry Gilson
Larry Gilson
Feb 21, 2016 11:17 AM
Tough to break away from the "isms" isn't it?
Steve Snyder
Steve Snyder Subscriber
Feb 21, 2016 11:23 AM
Larry, I'm sure it is, for wingers who repeatedly throw around the word "socialism." Oh, and "betterment" isn't "utopia."
Toby Thaler
Toby Thaler Subscriber
Feb 21, 2016 02:50 PM
Larry: I don't see much of a "movement"—let alone a revolution—in the UN's lengthy statement. And as I pointed out, the goals incorporate a fundamental flaw of the current business as usual oligarchy, that growth is essential to "sustainability."
Bill Lundeen
Bill Lundeen
Feb 22, 2016 03:22 PM
As one who has spent considerable time in the Blanding-Bluff-Monticello area south of Moab--thank you for this article! I am also a supporter of the Bears Ears Coalition and am glad to see awareness of this issue growing in support of the Inter-Tribal position, which seems to be very much against that of the Rob Bishop plan that calls antiquities in this ancient, massive area "bullcrap" and sees no need for protection of these 1.9 million acres.
Larry Gilson
Larry Gilson
Feb 22, 2016 08:20 PM
Well, Toby....a 100 billion dollars (just the part the US has "mobilized") is some kind of movement! I believe we probably could end homelessness in the US for that amount couldn't we?
I agree with you about our fixation with "sustainable economic growth." There is no model for endless growth anywhere in nature, but there's plenty of talk about it in this White House press release from Sept.
https://www.whitehouse.gov/[…]ment-policy-and-agenda-2030
Dean Nyffeler
Dean Nyffeler Subscriber
Feb 25, 2016 01:03 PM
Glad you mentioned the local Navajo who have now picketed Window Rock and do not want a monument at Bears Ears. It appears that the leaders and the other tribes are not listening to the locals on the ground. Is this a case of be careful what you ask for you may get it. They seem afraid that a monument would shut them out of their wood gathering and other subsistence measures that keep them going.