In 2016 President Barak Obama proclaimed the Bears Ears region of southeastern Utah to be a US National Monument of 1.35 million acres. The proclamation came after years of work of five local tribes and their allies to create an unprecedented cooperative governing organization to protect America’s most significant and unprotected land of archaeological and cultural antiquities, the ancient heritage of tribal people who have lived in the area for millennia.
The Intertribal Coalition provided for collaborative management by the tribes and the federal government, on a basis of equality, something that has never been done before. Both western science and Indigenous traditional knowledge would be given equal weight in decision-making. As Jim Enote, Zuni tribal member and Director of A:shiwi A:waan Museum and Heritage Center explains, “Decision making by those who are intimately tied to the wellbeing of these places could finally yield an entirely new era of sensitive and responsive land management.”
Navajos like Mark Maryboy interviewed many elders in the past 10 years, including many members of my own family. He collected stories of how the lands of the Bears Ears were used by the People for ceremonial purposes, medicinal plant gathering, hunting, wood gathering, protection, and spiritual well being. The Navajo and other tribes protected the ancient dwellings on the land, and did not damage the remains of buildings and humans in any way. It grieves the Navajos who live close to the Bears Ears that local non-Indians have been plundering and damaging these dwellings and graves for close to 100 years.
The Bears Ears region has been cooperatively managed for the entire year since the land was proclaimed a National Monument. Many healing ceremonies and social gatherings have been held there, and the land is beginning to heal. Many generations of Dine people have joyfully gathered there in all seasons to celebrate the beginning of the Bears Ears National Monument.
Now, in December 2017, with the stroke of a pen, President Trump has eliminated close to 2,000,000 acres, which is most of the Bears Ears National Monument and the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in southern Utah.. This most unfortunate decision has left the region wide open to plundering graves, damaging priceless ancient rock art, pulling down buildings, 4 wheel excursions, mining including fracking and extracting uranium from the ground, in an area where hundreds of Indian and non-Indian miners and their generation of descendants have died from uranium related cancers and other diseases. Trump’s decision will lead to desecration and heartbreak. It demonstrates to Native Americans that their lands and values mean very little to the US Government. It gives Native American youth less and less hope for their own futures.
There is overwhelming support among the five local tribes of the Intertribal Coalition, including Navajo (Dine) Nation, Hopi, Pueblo of Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Ute Indian and others. The US courts have not weighed in on the matter since the Antiquities Act’s passage 111 years ago. That law authorizes presidents to unilaterally set aside public lands to protect “objects of historic and scientific interest,” which President Barack Obama used to designate the 1.35 million acres in San Juan County last year. The five tribes — Hopi, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni and Ute Indian — pushed for the monument status and are suing Trump and members of his administration for splitting the designation into two areas that comprise less than 202,000 acres. In a brief visit to Utah, the president also trimmed Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by nearly 900,000 acres.
There is much support to fight this presidential proclamation by Donald Trump and his Department of the Interior. Large corporations who support economic justice, such as Patagonia, have stood up and supported a grass roots movement to put back the 2,000,000 acres into Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante in Southern Utah National Monuments. The five tribes are filing their own lawsuits against the President’s recent decision. Responsible people across the nation and internationally, are calling for the repeal of the President’s proclamation.
A legal basis of the fight for social and economic justice rest on the central argument that only Congress, not the President, has the legal authority to diminish National Monuments.
The Indigenous Education Institute stands proudly among those who will carry on this fight for social and economic justice. We ask you to join us in the restoration of public lands for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante.
Nancy C. Maryboy, PhD
Nancy Maryboy is the Founding President and Executive Director of the Indigenous Education Institute, a non profit organization with a mission of preserving, protecting and applying indigenous knowledge.
Disclaimer: This is not an official statement by the American Astronomical Society nor the Committee on the Status of Minorities in Astronomy and should not be construed as such.