MONUMENT VALLEY, UTAH – “It’s a great day to celebrate,” Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye told more than 400 grassroots supporters and esteemed tribal leaders who gathered at the Monument Valley Welcome Center on Saturday to commemorate designation of the Bears Ears National Monument.
“This is what we all did,” Begaye went on to say, “This is what working together is all about. We are a powerful voice.”
Elected leaders from the five Tribes of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition were met by cheers from a diverse audience of Native and non-Native people of all ages, who traveled through the first snow of the new year to celebrate the historic designation of Bears Ears National Monument.
“I am thankful from the bottom of my heart,” grinned Navajo Nation Council Delegate Davis Filfred, who represents five Utah Navajo districts. Delegate Filfred introduced legislation this week in support of Bears Ears National Monument, which the entire Navajo Nation Council passed unanimously on Thursday, January 5.
Alfred Lomaquahu, Vice Chairman of the Hopi Tribe, told those assembled, “Your strength becomes our strength. Your blessings become our blessings. We’re doing this for all the people who realize this land holds our being. It holds who we are.”
Photo credit: Tim Peterson
“This was a grassroots effort,” stated Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez to cheers from the audience. “This is your Monument. This everyone’s Monument. Congratulations goes to each and everyone of you.” He added, “We are the first environmentalists in the history of this planet, so who better to be at the table?”
“Each one of us has a right to stand proudly and say, my voice was heard,” said former Ute Mountain Ute Councilwoman Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk. “We’ve changed history because we’ve stepped beyond consultation.”
She also articulated, “We’ve got to protect the eloquent words of this proclamation. And second, we’ve got to defend the Antiquities Act.”
“The fight doesn’t have to be a fight,” stated Shaun Chapoose, Chairman of the Ute Tribe of Uinta Ouray Reservation. “We have all worked together, and we will continue working together.”
“Bears Ears is our place of healing,” observed Eric Descheenie, Representative-elect for the Arizona House of Representatives and former Co-Chair of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition. “The opposition cannot compromise our ability to heal. It is absolutely critical that we develop a space for high-level intellectual conversation where we can talk about who we are and what it means to be human. Bears Ears Commission has created such a space.
“The narrative has to shift. Please recognize that indigenous people carry a different body of knowledge. Let’s embrace that difference, support one another, and champion the new narrative.”
As the audience smiled over bowls of hominy mutton stew and frybread, Navajo Nation President Begaye concluded, “Bears Ears is all about Indian people standing together.”