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Op-ed: Herbert is wrong about Bears Ears monument, and it’s not just Navajos who know it

First Published      Last Updated Feb 27 2016 03:09 pm

Gov. Gary Herbert recently delivered a letter to President Obama urging him to refrain from designating a new national monument in the state.

The governor raised the specter of the controversial Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument designated under the Clinton administration and warned that "history shows this sort of action will only exacerbate an already tense situation and will further perpetuate the longstanding public lands conflict."

In so doing, Herbert chose to conveniently ignore longstanding efforts by Native Americans, including Utah Navajos, to protect the Bears Ears.

Herbert's assessment of the repercussions of a possible Bears Ears National Monument is both biased and inaccurate. While national monuments do impact local communities, studies and experience show that most monuments spur economic growth, create jobs for locals and are a positive addition to communities. A Bears Ears National Monument would benefit local Native and non-Native American residents of San Juan County financially and practically, to say nothing of the natural and cultural resources it would protect. Additionally, the Bears Ears landscape is deserving of attention for the immense role it plays in the social, cultural and spiritual lives of Native American people in the region.



The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition — a partnership of Zuni, Navajo, Hopi, Uintah and Ouray Ute and Ute Mountain Ute Tribes — is seeking national monument status to protect the natural and cultural resources of the Bears Ears, including cliff dwellings, rock art and the gravesites of our ancestors, for generations of Americans to come. The Public Lands Initiative, unfortunately, fails to satisfactorily protect the region and does not respect Native American connections to the Bears Ears. Rather than including meaningful input from tribes, the PLI process has, on the whole, actively excluded the valuable opinions of Native Americans whose ancestral ties to this land date back thousands of years.

Despite false statements that seek to minimize the strong popular support for a Bears Ears National Monument, as a Navajo Nation council delegate who represents Utah Navajos, I know that we are not divided. The other tribes represented in the coalition are also firm in their support.

While a small handful of local Utahns oppose a national monument designation, we cannot ignore the large majority that supports one.

The Bears Ears region is already public land, and it should remain public for all Utahns and Americans to enjoy. This is a people's movement at its heart. The goal is to heal the land and people, to mend rifts between all, not to divide.

Presidential use of the 1906 Antiquities Act has been criticized for a century, primarily by those who wish to develop public lands instead of protect them. However, throughout the past century challenges have failed. The reality is that the Antiquities Act is an invaluable tool in the protection of public lands for the future.

These "longstanding public lands conflicts" are nothing new, and should not discourage the president from designating Bears Ears — the country's most significant unprotected cultural landscape — a national monument.

Herbert's views do not represent the majority of Utah's Navajos, who overwhelmingly support a Bears Ears National Monument. And with two out of three Utahns supporting permanent protection of a Bears Ears National Monument, according to the 2016 State of the Rockies poll, it seems the governor is out of touch with what most Utahns want, too.

Herman Daniels Jr. is a Navajo Nation Council Delegate representing Shonto, Naa'tsis'Áán, Oljato and Ts'ah Bii Kin.

 

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