Carleton Bowekaty: Save your chance for a connection at Bear Ears

We must oppose those bent on short-term exploitation.

(Photo courtesy of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition) Tribal and federal officials met last week at White Mesa, Utah, to sign an historic cooperative agreement for the management of Bears Ears National Monument. Flanked by Undersecretary of Agriculture Homer Wilkes, left, and BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning, right, members of the Bears Ears Commission gathered at the newly unveiled monument sign on State Road 261. Pictured left to right are Commissioners Christopher Tabbee and son (Ute), Malcolm Lehi (Ute Mountain Ute), Carleton Bowekaty (Zuni Pueblo), Timothy Nuvangyaoma (Hopi) and Davis Filfred (Navajo).

Never take more than you need. Leave things better than you found them. Be kind today, to create a better tomorrow. What values will we allow to shape the world we live within?

In recent years, some individuals in the United States have acted as if truth no longer exists and that taking whatever you can grab will be tolerated. They acted as if merely stating something made it true, and as if a person could violate the law and face no consequences. As Native people, we have faced this mindset before.

In 2016, then-President Donald Trump proclaimed he had split the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah into two smaller pieces. No law gave him the authority or power to do this.

Even so, corporations and individuals chose to believe they could exploit 85% of the national monument lands simply because he said they could. Artifact hunters began to loot. Exploitative industries that destroy everything in their path pursuing profits laid claim to the public’s land. People roaming the Bears Ears landscape damaged rock art.

No one will see those petroglyphs intact again. Some actions have no fix, no repair, no remedy.

Although Trump’s proclamation was investigated and repealed in 2021, the battle against short-term exploitation continues. In 2022, individuals and entities, led by the state of Utah, have filed two lawsuits to strip Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments of protections that have halted damage and exploitation to our shared lands and resources.

The two buttes shaped like the ears of a bear and the landscape that surrounds this sacred land formation have created a sense of wonder for thousands of years. A visit to Bears Ears supports the health, mental well-being, and cultural connection of Native peoples, locals, and tourists. Many people who venture to Bears Ears hope to return to see it again with loved ones. The chance for future generations to experience a connection to the beauty of this place depends upon our ability to put the chaotic, largely lawless years behind us, and preserve the lands as a national monument.

For Bears Ears to continue to exist, we must oppose those bent on short-term exploitation. We must oppose those who cannot or will not see the consequences that their actions will create for the rest of us and for the next seven generations.

These places are sacred to Tribal Nations and we oppose these lawsuits and the attempts to ruin these places. Since time immemorial, generations of Native people have worked to protect Bears Ears. The Bears Ears Coalition continues this fight, and I was honored to represent the coalition as a co-chair. As co-managers of the monument, the coalition stands against impulses that could destroy, within a few short years, this sacred place — a natural wonder that has existed for eons. To date, 30 tribal governments have expressed support for protecting the monument.

As a father, a Native person and a former elected official for the Zuni Pueblo, my values include preserving resources like this unique national monument for future generations to also experience. I want to leave Bears Ears better than I found it. What values will you choose?

Carleton R. Bowekaty

Carleton Bowekaty is a former co-director of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition and a former lieutenant governor for the Pueblo of Zuni. The Hopi, Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute, Diné and Ute peoples formed the nonprofit coalition and serve as co-managers of the Bears Ears National Monument since June of 2022. Learn more at bearsearscoalition.org.