BEARS EARS NATIONAL MONUMENT, UTAH — It is late December and there is a sense of anticipation in the air as we approach the second anniversary when President Obama declared the Bears Ears National Monument on December 28, 2016. After years of local and regional activism from tribal leaders, community members and advocacy groups, the work of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition (“Coalition”) continues. All of us have a stake in promoting a resilient landscape that will support future generations. Setting a positive precedent at Bears Ears will be critical in winning future conservation battles. “This is a modern fight,” Coalition Co-Representative of the Navajo Nation, James Adakai says, “This is what we have left, a piece of land that is sacred to our people.”
The Coalition is now, unfortunately, immersed in a legal fight to ensure federal protection of the Bears Ears National Monument, an area encompassing 1.35 million acres on the Colorado Plateau. Through this battle, the Coalition, a consortium of five sovereign tribal nations in the west and southwestern United States, is guided by our collective charge to protect the Bears Ears landscape. The Coalition mission describes:
We wish to assure that the Bears Ears area will be managed forever with the greatest environmental sensitivity and healing of the land to make it fully a place where we can be among our ancestors and their songs and wisdom and our deepest values, where the traumas of the past can be alleviated, where we can connect with the land and be healed.
Our goal to protect the Bears Ears landscape is rooted in our desire to empower Native leaders, workers, scientists, and communities. We aim to tackle some of the most pressing issues of our time: environmental justice and ecological resilience. We also wish to provide the public information on what is at stake and ideas on what they can personally do in order to preserve and honor this sacred place. Shaun Chapoose, Coalition Co-Representative of the Ute Indian Tribe has noted that “It’s a living landscape. It has a pulse, it has a heartbeat.”
The Coalition would like to personally thank you for your dedicated support of our organization. We understand that many of our supporters have not yet visited the Bears Ears landscape, though many wish to do so in the future. If you do undertake the journey to see this remarkable place, we ask that you visit it with the utmost respect and care. Many of the current threats we are fighting to mitigate are looting, grave robbing and vandalism. These acts not only threaten archeologists’ understanding of the past, but are destructive to a tribe’s connection to their ancestors and to the land itself. We ask if you happen upon a cultural artifact or structure in the future that you simply enjoy it from afar. We can each make a difference through responsible visitation and recreational activities.
Our hope is for people of all backgrounds to appreciate this incredibly important place, and to become motivated to help protect it in the future. This Native environmental movement is not just a fight of cultural and ecological survival for communities in the west and southwest – it is in fact part of a greater, global movement to fight and save sacred landscapes before they disappear, forever. A better, more equitable, and ecologically vibrant future is still achievable. Each one of us needs to be courageous, step into our responsibilities, and embrace it.
To reflect on what has happened so far and learn how to get involved, please visit the Coalition’s new website at BearsEarsCoalition.org, where you will find updates, media and ways to show (and wear!) your support.