Protecting Holy Lands: The Bears Ears Controversy

For the first time since the election, I agree with Donald Trump. No, no you did not read that wrong. In reference to his decision Monday on the significant shrinkage of two Utah national monuments, Trump said of any who believe, "that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington. Guess what? They're wrong." And he’s right, well kind of. The natural lands of Utah should NOT have their fate decided by far off politicians (that includes you Donald, please go back to golfing), or Utah politicians (glances at Orin and Gary), or even the local supporters who wish to profit off these lands. The fate of Utah’s natural lands should be decided by the Native American tribes who have rich historical ties, as well as deep religious, and cultural connections to the land.  

And for once, miraculously, it was. The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, comprised of the Hopi, Navajo, Zuni and two Ute tribes, spent seven years collecting data in order to propose added protection for Bears Ears. This land, which boasts 100,000 archeological sites including native cliff dwellings, and sacred rock art, is of ancestral and historical significance to their tribes. The failure to protect Bears Ears is just the latest of centuries of abuse towards Natives at the hands of the U.S. Government. These sacred lands are now vulnerable to damaging developments such as coal mining, oil and gas drilling, new roads, and off-road vehicle damage. Literally, one of the reasons listed in opposition of the monument was the inability to off road on the land. That’s a joke right?

But despite the dark implications of Trump’s announcement, there is hope. Two days before Trump announced the reduction, a rally was held at the Utah State Capitol opposing the expected decision. A rally I had the fortune to attend. Five thousand people of all ages gathered with friends, families, tribe’s members, environmentalists, and lovers of the great outdoors to protest the dismantling of sacred land. The sanctity of which buzzed in the air. Representatives of the Navajo tribe danced, and sang, and addressed the crowd. People screamed chants to protect our land, and carried signs reading “Keep your greedy little hands off Utah wild lands.” One speaker prompted Trump to visit the lands he wishes to desecrate, to take off his shoes, and feel the sand between his toes. But perhaps the most resounding message came from the final speaker, a representative of the Ute tribe, who quoted the Bible verse Exodus 3:5 "Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”

The fight to protect this Holy Land is not over, it is not lost. The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition who fought for the monument status, ten environmental and wilderness groups, and other groups, including outdoor retailers Patagonia, have or plan to file lawsuits against the actions of the President. Patagonia features a page on protecting Bears Ears with a “Take Action” button. You can still reach out to your representatives and let them know that this decision does not represent the wishes of Utahans. Fight back, against the devastation of natural lands for monetary gain, the destruction of lands of cultural significance, and against the endangerment of living breathing lands, that to Indigenous Tribes are sacred grounds.