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Op-ed: Bears Ears has special meaning for Mormons, too

First Published      Last Updated May 06 2017 03:00 pm

This week's news carried the story that President Trump intends to call for a review of all recent national monument designations. There will surely be special attention paid to Bears Ears National Monument. As a fifth-generation Utah resident and a Latter-day Saint, I find this troubling.

Bears Ears National Monument is unique in the nation. It is the only national monument that has come about because of a request by indigenous nations, five of the them in fact. Its natural beauty, historical and cultural significance sets it apart. It both needs and deserves our support.

The Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute, and Uintah & Ouray Ute Nations called on all of us to protect this area from development and exploitation. The Bears Ears Commission has been formed by representatives of these tribes. Their first act is to ask President Trump to uphold the monument's designation. The area of the monument is to these aboriginal peoples a place of refuge, a source of sacred plants and minerals, a memorial to their ancestors and a place of spiritual refreshment. It is a bright spot in a sad history of broken treaties and cultural erosion. It is a big step in the right direction. It represents a shift in direction long overdue.




In 1879 my ancestors at considerable hardship left their homes in southwest Utah and responded to a call from LDS Church President John Taylor to establish settlements in the San Juan area. Their six-month trek across some of the roughest country anywhere has become the stuff of legend. After crossing the Colorado River at what is now called The Hole In The Rock, their trail is completely within the new monument. I have retraced parts of that journey and marveled at their faith and grit. I have stood on the top of Comb Ridge and touched the rock wall where they carved the words "We Thank Thee O God" into the sandstone after completing the last brutal hill climb before heading east toward the site where they established the settlement of Bluff. The trail is sacred to me and my family, all of it. I was delighted to learn of the monument's designation. Knowing that it is protected is important to us.

The area of the monument contains some of the most beautiful lands in the American Southwest. As a person of faith I revere the works of God. Like my Native American brothers and sisters, I value Bears Ears as a place of refuge from the pressures of life. I go there often by myself and with my family to recreate, to contemplate the wonder of Creation and to recharge. It is a resource of great power. Much of the human activity that has been carried out in Bears Ears and that will continue under its management is compatible with these values. The tribes will be able to continue to collect firewood, pinyon nuts, plant medicines and to resort there for prayers. Traditional uses such as recreation, hunting and grazing will continue insofar as they do not damage the resources. It is a model of sustainable use. The sacred lands will be protected from the more intrusive and destructive uses such as mining, drilling and commercial development.

Utahns have known for some time that the long-term economic benefits of this kind of land use far out weigh the immediate profits afforded by extractive industries. They bring quick but short lived revenues that leave the landscape irreparably scarred and unfit for other uses. This type of short-sighted use constitutes selling of our birthright for a mess of pottage. If we are to think of our children and their children then we need to treasure and preserve these lands.

Utah's political leadership argues that these goals can be best met by local management of the lands of Bears Ears. The recent sale of state trust lands on Comb Ridge to a private party who promptly locked the gate to the established road that had been used for public access for generations fatally undercuts that argument. Actually who is more local than the five Indigenous Nations represented in the Bears Ears Commission? They should be given the chance to have a hand in the management of these lands they have fought so hard to protect and that represent their spiritual lifeblood.

As people of faith, as Utahns and as people interested in the future of our state we are called to protect God's Creation and these sacred places. Please join other grassroots LDS community members in urging President Trump to uphold Bears Ears National Monument. Please go to the Mormon Environmental Stewardship Alliance website and see how you can get involved. http://www.mesastewardship.org

Joseph Bennion is a fifth-generation Utahn. He divides his professional pursuits between making pottery and guiding river trips in Grand Canyon.

 

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