We local elected officials on the Colorado Plateau have been scratching our heads in recent days as we witness attention given to the Utah politicians who oppose restoration of the Bears Ears National Monument. We support Bears Ears, and we also deserve a voice.
Our San Juan County Commission has passed a resolution calling upon President Joe Biden to expand Bears Ears. So has the Grand County Commission, the Moab City Council, the Bluff Town Council and the Flagstaff City Council. In fact, 125 elected officials across the West have also called for the restoration of Bears Ears.
And so, all of us, many of our constituents, and many millions more across America were thankful when Biden signed an order reviewing President Trump’s cuts to Bears Ears. We were grateful that President Barack Obama listened to the calls of five sovereign Tribal Nations, supported by many more tribes and pueblos, which asked him to preserve the area in 2016.
Utah politicians who oppose the Bears Ears would have you believe that Obama’s actions were unilateral, and that they were hasty, but that’s not true. These statements continue a long tradition of diminishing history, particularly when it comes to the erasure of Indigenous voices.
Discussions on Bears Ears began more than a decade ago when then-Sen. Bob Bennett brought all parties together to talk about land uses here in San Juan County. Later, then-Rep. Rob Bishop worked on legislation that included protections for Bears Ears. Late in his process, he decided to add so many poison pills to his bill that it could not pass.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell spent a week in Utah in 2016, taking the time to meet with many elected officials and tribal leaders. She even held a public listening session where two thirds of those who spoke favored protecting Bears Ears. That meeting set an attendance record for the community center in Bluff that still stands.
When President Donald Trump ordered a review of monument designations in early 2017, more than 98% of the 2.8 million people who commented opposed the reduction of national monuments. Since then, poll after poll has shown that Western voters reject president Trump’s cuts by a supermajority.
Now, some Utah politicians say that restoring Bears Ears will “deepen divisions in this country,” and that they want to “bring the State of Utah to the table and work with state and local elected leaders toward a consensus product, including a permanent solution approved by Congress.”
When politicians cloud what really happened for their own purposes, that is when divisions are deepened. Consensus was reached when Obama designated Bears Ears – it was a compromise. The five tribes asked for nearly 2 million acres, but Obama’s monument boundaries were nearly identical to what Bishop proposed in his bill.
Sadly, the true message of Bears Ears has been lost – historic unity between tribes and solidarity between Indigenous and nonindigenous people centered around an unmatched cultural landscape. Bears Ears is a place of healing where there are many stories to be told, and we’re looking forward to telling those stories. But first, we must move beyond the overhyped narrative of conflict by setting things right.
To do so, we urge Biden to act swiftly to return to the compromise already made on Bears Ears. After Trump’s betrayal of that compromise is corrected, we can work together to help our communities by passing legislation in Congress that meets needs we still have – needs like improving our roads, providing water, electricity and better internet access for our people.
President Biden, the time to repair damage done and begin healing is now.
Willie Grayeyes is the chairman of the San Juan County Commission.
Kenneth Maryboy is the vice chairman of the San Juan County Commission.