WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, a historic partnership of five sovereign Tribal Nations, today formally presented to the Obama Administration their proposal for the creation of a 1.9 million acre, collaboratively managed national monument in southern Utah. A copy of the proposal was also delivered to Representatives Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz of Utah.
The Hopi, Navajo, Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute, and Zuni Tribes created the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition in July of this year with the mission to protect and preserve the Bears Ears region, to which they have ancestral and contemporary ties. The sovereign-led proposal is formally supported by an additional 19 Tribes as well as the National Congress of American Indians.
"This proposal originates from the heart of Indian Country," said Eric Descheenie, Co-Chair of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition and advisor to Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye. "By protecting these sacred ancestral lands we can take a very important step towards healing."
The Bears Ears National Monument proposal is named for the Bears Ears buttes – two prominent landforms at the center of a landscape rich in antiquities, with more than 100,000 archaeological and cultural sites that are sacred to dozens of tribes. However, rampant looting and destruction of the region's structures, artwork, and gravesites is ongoing, and oil, gas and potash extraction also loom as threats.
"This destruction of our sacred sites—including the gravesites of our ancestors—deeply wounds us," said Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk, Councilwoman to the Ute Mountain Ute. "Bears Ears should have been protected long ago. It has been central to our creation and migration stories since time immemorial."
"The Antiquities Act was written to protect Native American artifacts on public lands," said Alfred Lomahquahu, Vice Chairman to the Hopi Nation. "But this is the first time tribes have ever come together to call on the President to use the Antiquities Act."
The collaborative management the proposal calls for—between Tribes and the federal government—would not change the ownership of the land; tribes and agency officials would be working together as equals to make joint decisions. As with any national monument, members of the public and key stakeholders will have ample opportunity to contribute to the development of plans and policies.
Prior to presenting their proposal to the Obama Administration, the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition delivered copies to Representatives Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz of Utah. Reps. Bishop and Chaffetz have been working on a Public Lands Initiative, which seeks to address federal land management in the Bears Ears and other regions of eastern Utah. However, as the Bears Ears proposal details, Tribes have been excluded despite their extensive efforts to have the proposal considered as part of the Public Lands Initiative.
Still, at a press conference at the National Press Club, the tribes emphasized that the proposal is an opportunity to bring people together—including Representatives Bishop and Chaffetz. "It's not just for us to get healed," said Willie Grayeyes, chairman of Utah Diné Bikéyah, a nonprofit that developed and built grassroots support for the proposal among tribal members. "It's for our adversaries to be healed too. We can come out dancing together."
The proposed monument would be open to all members of the public.