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Op-ed: Tribes’ involvement would make Bears Ears monument historic and unique

First Published      Last Updated May 14 2016 05:09 pm

By the time Congress passed the Antiquities Act in 1906, the indigenous population of America had been reduced by 97 percent. Yet the purpose of the 1906 law was to protect the prehistoric ruins and artifacts of indigenous peoples rather than the survivors of this campaign of genocide. In the entire 110-year history of the Antiquities Act, there has never been a Native American campaign for a national monument until now.

Today, the Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute, and Uintah and Ouray Ute have formally united to win a presidential proclamation establishing a 1.9 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument in the extraordinary cultural, ecological and scenic landscape stretching from Canyonlands National Park to the San Juan River in southeastern Utah. The land holds a globally important record of their long inhabitation in the form of innumerable rock art sites, villages, trails, and burial grounds, and is still in active use today.




The five tribes of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition have developed a visionary plan for the first monument to be co-managed by the tribes and the federal government. This action is so important in the nationwide evolution of tribal sovereignty that 20 southwest tribes have signed the proposal and it has been endorsed as a highest priority by the National Congress of American Indians. The tribes consider this a chance for a profound kind of healing — of past injustices, of the land, and of relations among peoples.

This shocking proposal has plunged the entire Utah congressional delegation, Gov. Gary Herbert and the Utah Constitutional Defense Council into convulsions of anger. They cannot imagine that sophisticated, modern tribal nations could come up with such an idea; environmentalists must have somehow duped them into putting it forward. Obviously, the Utah delegation has not talked with the visionary tribal leaders who are eloquently championing an idea that arose from grassroots tribal people living in the Bears Ears region.

Again and again, the tribes have patiently refuted Utah officials with unanimous resolutions of support for Bears Ears. In response, people like Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz counter that their Public Lands Initiative is a better, locally-driven proposal. Let's set aside, for a moment, the facts that nobody living outside San Juan County was allowed to have any say in developing the PLI for the Bears Ears region, and that the tribes were so callously excluded from that process. Instead, let's focus on the differences between what the tribes are proposing for Bears Ears and the discussion draft of the PLI. It's an illuminating exercise.

First, the areas proposed for protection are vastly different. The Inter-Tribal Coalition's proposal contains 1,931,977 acres; the PLI proposes roughly half that—1 ,043,567 acres. The Bishop/Chaffetz proposal leaves out public lands riches, including Hatch Point, Harts Draw, innumerable spectacular canyons, Mancos and Wingate mesas, Nokai Dome and the San Juan River corridor. Deleting these areas leaves unprotected the oldest rock art image in North America and many of the largest and most significant rock art panels in Utah. Also unprotected are thousands of cultural sites, including pueblos, kivas, cliff dwellings, and Navajo and Ute historic sites.

The PLI would create 150,031 acres of energy zones inside the Bears Ears, where energy leasing, production and extraction are prioritized above all other uses. Further, the PLI would leave White Canyon available for unthinkably destructive tar sands leasing and mining.

The PLI would settle the long-standing road controversy by simply transferring ownership of 2,071 miles of roads, trails and paths within the Bears Ears to the state of Utah and San Juan County as new "state highways." Many of these routes are impassible or closed today, but some that are open have facilitated looting and grave robbing.

The differences in the role of the tribes are as important as the differences in protection. The intertribal coalition has proposed an eight-member commission with a representative from each of the five tribes and one each from the Forest Service, BLM and National Park Service to formally oversee management of the monument. The PLI proposes a four-member committee: one from San Juan County, one from the State of Utah, and two tribal appointees to "advise" on management and "encourage and promote local decision-making." Tribes accustomed to empty promises of consultation can read the fine print and see that this is a betrayal of everything the Bears Ears idea embodies. Last, the intertribal coalition strongly objects to the exemption from the Antiquities Act that the PLI will contain.

Let us stop pretending that the Public Lands Initiative is equivalent to the vision of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition. The PLI is an energy sacrifice zone strewn with roads and hemmed in by bad faith, while the Bears Ears Monument is a place of intact landscape, protected sacred and archaeological sites and vibrant cultural traditions, both old and new.

Bill Hedden is the executive director of the Grand Canyon Trust. He lives in Grand County.

 

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