Commentary: A chance to restore the balance of Bears Ears

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) This Dec. 28, 2016, file photo shows the two buttes that make up the namesake for Utah's Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah. The U.S. government is issuing draft proposals for how it would like to manage two national monuments in Utah that were significantly downsized by President Donald Trump in 2017 in a move that angered conservation and tribal groups and triggered lawsuits.

This March, we are grateful. We are grateful for the blessing of much-needed snow in our communities, and we are grateful for the blanket of snow that now covers Bears Ears.

We are grateful, too, that the United States Congress asked us to share with them why the Bears Ears National Monument is important to us, and why President Trump’s attempt to revoke and replace the monument with two, much smaller, monument units was so devastating.

On March 13, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Natural Resources Committee will finally hold an oversight hearing to explore the illegal and illegitimate process used to strip Antiquities Act protections from significant cultural, natural and sacred objects and resources within the Bears Ears landscape. There is no question that these resources and the landscape qualify for and need protection under the Antiquities Act. It is time to acknowledge the violation visited upon our tribal nations and the American people.

Elected leaders from our tribes have been invited to testify before the committee on March 13. We plan to travel to Washington, D.C., to hold Trump and his administration accountable for their actions. The Trump administration failed to meaningfully engage our sovereign nations in their unlawful decision to revoke and replace Bears Ears. Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spent but one hour with our leadership when he visited Utah in 2017.

Our connections to Bears Ears are more to us than just a memory, and certainly more than can be captured in a one-hour meeting. It is part of our sacred cultural covenant to protect the ancient villages, sacred springs, migration routes, pilgrimage trails, artifacts, petroglyphs and the physical remains of our buried ancestors that compose a connected cultural landscape at Bears Ears. These are our traditional cultural properties, and it is our duty to preserve them not just for us, but for the whole world.

But it is more than just our history we are seeking to protect; it is our future, too. Our tribal peoples continue to use the Bears Ears landscape for ceremony, for gathering of traditional and cultural materials, and to live in and continue the reciprocal relationship we share with the landscape.

The context offered here may be unfamiliar to many and it is why the president’s December 2017 action was so upsetting to us. That action, performed against the wishes of our tribes as well as against the wishes of millions of Americans, threatens our ability to be able to fulfill our sacred covenant.

We are appreciative of so many who have offered their prayers, their support and their actions in our fight to protect the Bears Ears National Monument. We are thankful to those in Congress who understand our covenant. We are thankful to Rep. Reuben Gallego, Rep. Debra Haaland and Sen. Tom Udall and their many co-sponsors who introduced bills that would legislatively overrule Trump’s action and reestablish the Bears Ears National Monument as our coalition of Tribes proposed it in 2015. The bills they have introduced are H.R. 871, the BEARS Act; and H.R. 1050/S. 367, the ANTIQUITIES Act of 2019. These bills have our support, and they deserve yours, too. Please let your members of Congress know that these bills merit a hearing and a vote.

The upcoming hearing will uncover the bias, the outsized influence of the mining and drilling industries and the political motivations of the administration that led them to their illegal decision. It is our duty to assure that Bears Ears be managed forever with the greatest environmental sensitivity so that we may be with our ancestors, and so that we may connect with the land and be healed. It is time to bring the world back into balance by preserving Bears Ears. We invite you join us in this commitment.

The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition is a consortium of sovereign tribal nations united in the effort to conserve the Bears Ears cultural landscape. It includes the Ute Indian Tribe, the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and the Zuni Pueblo.