Five Native American tribes pushing for a national monument in southern Utah that would protect their ancestral homelands have abandoned efforts to achieve the goal with help from U.S. congressmen Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, both Utah Republicans, saying they have "been consistently stonewalled. We have never been taken seriously."
Instead, the tribes -- Hopi, Navajo, Zuni, Uinta and Ouray Ute, and Ute Mountain Ute -- say they will seek President Obama's use of the Antiquities Act to create the 1.9-million-acre monument by presidential decree.
In a letter sent Dec. 31, the tribes said their contributions to the Public Lands Initiative process overseen by the congressmen have been ignored by the San Juan County (Utah) Commission, which they were told to work with, and by the delegations themselves. Along with presenting their proposal during more than two dozen meetings in Utah, the tribes made eight trips to Washington, D.C., to meet with the representatives' staffs.
"At all of these meetings, both in the field and in Washington, D.C., we asked for comments on our proposal. Our extensive and unwavering efforts to engage in the PLI process are cataloged in great detail in Exhibit One of our proposal," read the letter, which was signed by Alfred Lomahquahu and Eric Descheenie, co-chairmen of the Bears Ears Inter-tribal Coalition. "It was to no avail. In no instance did anyone from the Utah delegation or the PLI make a single, substantive comment, positively or negatively, on our proposal."
The proposed monument envisioned by the tribes would protect a landscape that was once their homeland, where "looting and grave robbing has been extensive, despicable, and continuous. Irresponsible mining and off-road vehicle use have torn up the ground. These and other actions have violated and despoiled our ancestors' homes and other structures."
The lands the tribes would like to see included in the monument currently are governed by entities including the National Park Service, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Forest Service.
The Bears Ears land is a unique cultural place where we visit and practice religious traditional rights for the purpose of attaining or resuming health for ourselves, human communities, and our natural world as an interconnected and inextricable whole. When we speak about health, we are not only talking about an individual, we are talking about one’s health in relation to others around us and that of the land.
Our traditional ways of ceremony using Bears Ears medicinal herbs and place, when conducted, negotiate ailing life or communities to health. Ruining the integrity of these lands forever compromises our ability to heal. Western medicine is not the only means to health, as shown in other cultures across the globe. The continuity of indigenous traditional medicine is in peril so long as lands like the Bears Ears are not protected.
Characterized by topographic diversity and striking landforms, Bears Ears ranges in elevation from 3,700 feet to more than 11,300 feet. Notable bordering features include the Colorado River on the west, the San Juan River and Navajo Nation on the south, and the White Mesa Ute Reservation on the East. The 1.9 million acres defined in the proposal area represent federally owned public lands, which are currently managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Forest Service, and National Park Service. Much of this land is comprised of BLM Wilderness Study Areas and Forest Service Inventoried Roadless Areas.