Published July 17, 2016
BLUFF, UTAH – Tribal leaders and grassroots local residents expressed a unified desire for protection of the Bears Ears cultural landscape at the public hearing in Bluff, Utah, on Saturday – the largest national monument hearing in the history of the Obama administration.
Over 1,500 individuals attended the public meeting at the Bluff Community Center, in spite of triple digit heat and standing room only even in the outdoor facilities, where the event was broadcast over loudspeaker. Saturday’s public meeting was hosted by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and other federal officials from the U. S. Departments of Interior and Agriculture, who have been touring the proposed Bears Ears National Monument and travelling throughout southeast Utah for the past week.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell opened the three and a half hour meeting by observing, “There is a desire to protect what’s here for future generations. That has been consistent no matter who I have spoken with.”
“One thing we all have is a connection to the land,” said Carlton Bowekaty, Councilman for the Zuni Tribe and Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition delegate. “Our proposal is not about exclusion. Our proposal is about education & partnership.”
Utah Dine Bikeyah Board Chairman Willie Grayeyes, who was selected by lottery to speak, remarked, “Permanent protection is what we stand for. I hope the determination will be made to heal us – all of us.”
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye was also invited to address the crowd. “We greet these places by their names as if they were people. Through this relationship we are able to negotiate healing,” he explained. “Because of Navajo people’s connection to these lands, we have
requested co-management. This will be remembered among people for generations as honoring our sacred lands.”
Nearly 1,000 blue ‘Protect Bears Ears’ t-shirts were distributed to national monument supporters at the event. Protect Dozens of individuals were randomly selected by lottery to speak for two minutes each. Comments varied between monument supporters and opponents among speakers. A strong desire to protect Bears Ears was articulated by both groups.
As Secretary Jewell said, “The question perhaps is how?”
One of the final commentators of the afternoon observed, “However much we might wish it was not true, Utah’s political leaders have failed, and the job now rises to President Obama.”
The Public Lands Initiative, which was finally introduced Thursday after months of delay, is a non-starter. Despite the Utah delegation’s years of investment in the legislation, the PLI not only fails to provide a meaningful role for Tribes in the management of these ancestral lands. It also has effectively no chance of passage. No real legislative pathway for Bears Ears exists prior to Jan 20th. This is why Tribes are respectfully requesting President Obama to designate Bears Ears National Monument as soon as possible.
“When they say PLI, we’re saying no,” stated Navajo Nation Council Delegate Davis Filfred. He explained that the Navajo Nation and numerous other Tribes throughout the region have passed formal resolutions and legislation supporting protection for Bears Ears as a national monument. Delegate Filfred concluded, “We need President Obama to be brave.”
In her closing remarks, Secretary Jewell noted, “There are many voices here that say we want to continue to use these lands as we have. Those [uses] are not mutually exclusive with protection.”
UDB Chairman Grayeyes pointed out after the meeting, “Tribes have designed the Bears Ears National Monument proposal to ensure continued access and traditional use of these lands. Our intent is preserve and honor the land and cultural practices that have taken place here since time immemorial.”
For the first time in history, a unified coalition of sovereign Native American nations are calling on the President of the United States to protect their ancestral homelands as a national monument. Ute Mountain Ute Councilman and Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition representative Malcolm Lehi, whose constituents live adjacent to Bears Ears and rely on these lands for their livelihoods, asserted, “This is part of a movement that’s going to make history.”