The Salt Lake Tribune and other liberal media outlets have tried to paint a picture of grassroots support among local Native Americans for the creation of a vast new national monument in southeastern Utah. The coalition of tribes favoring the Bears Ears proposal are made up of members who mostly live out of state. By contrast, many of the local Utah Navajos who would be most impacted by a monument designation oppose the idea.
The latest front in a debate over the reach of U.S. control of federal land is a 1.9 million-acre retreat of mesas and canyons located in Utah’s poorest county.
The stakes are large for this remote land, which President Barack Obama is considering designating as a national monument, in his continued pursuit of being the most prolific conservationist to ever occupy the White House.
But for the local Native Americans who live near the land — known to them as Bears Ears — and depend on it for sustenance and cultural tradition, the debate over how to best preserve it feels smaller, but no less important.
“Bears Ears has a lot of meaning to me,” said Marie Holliday, a 72-year-old resident of Monument Valley in Utah’s San Juan County who belongs to the Navajo tribe.
Added Holliday, in an interview with The Daily Signal:
“Our people have used the land for generations. With my grandmother before she died, we would go across the San Juan River to graze [livestock]. In the fall, people start to go out there to get firewood to heat their homes for winter. We use the herbal plants that grow there to heal sickness. A lot of our ancestral ruins are buried there. It really is a beautiful place.”
Holliday does not support the work of a coalition of tribes — including the national body of her own, Navajo Nation — that is advocating for Obama to use his executive power under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to make Bears Ears a national monument.
Whereas supporters of a monument see it as a way to best protect Bears Ears from looting, mining, and drilling –and a tourist boon for the area’s struggling economy–local Native Americans who oppose it don’t trust the federal government to look out for their interests.
The 1.9 million acres in southeastern Utah defined in the proposal by the coalition of tribes are public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, and National Park Service.
“I hope our people can still enjoy Bears Ears,” Holliday said. “But I fear with a monument, there will be more restrictions, and we won’t have that opportunity, especially our Indian people, our Navajo people. We are always being cut off somewhere, and we don’t really trust the federal government. That’s the way we are. We want to continue to use it like the way it is.”