SALT LAKE CITY – The debate rages over adding an eighth national monument in Utah. President Barack Obama is considering a designation for the Bears Ears area in southeastern Utah, but local Navajo are against the plan and gathered on the steps of the State Capitol Tuesday to protest.
Members of the Aneth and Oljato chapters of the Navajo Nation are direct descendants of the native americans who once called Bears Ears home. They say it was, and is, a place of refuge.
Susie Philemone from McCracken Mesa said, “To this date we still hold that place as if it was our mother and we go there; we feel at peace when we go there.”
Chester Johnson, of the Aneth community, said when talks originated in 2005 it was about creating a conservation area, but somewhere along the way talks shifted into turning it into a national monument. “At that time when they switched to national monument they didn’t share it back with the community what their intent was,” said Johnson. “Aneth is the only one chapter that had the backbone to stand up and say ‘look central government, you don’t do that. You share it with us what the intent is for our region, the land that we use for centuries.'”
The Navajo of San Juan County rescinded their support. They say if the federal government takes over their lands they’ll no longer be able to hunt there, gather firewood and medicine, graze their cattle and use the mountain top for their religious ceremonies.
“That’s not fair. There are people that still graze there, they reside there, and they make that place their livelihood and you cannot just take that away,” said Philemone
The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, composed of the Navajo, Hopi, Uintah and Ouray Ute, Ute Mountain Ute, and Zuni Tribal Governments, are behind the Bears Ears National Monument effort. The Inter-Tribal Coalition says this is the first time that Native American Tribes have come together to seek national monument designation for their shared ancestral lands.
In a press release Wednesday the coalition released statements in support of the Bears Ears national monument designation. “For hundreds of years, those unfriendly to Tribal interests have sought to divide us – to pit Native people against one another,” said Alfred Lomahquahu, Vice Chairman of the Hopi Tribe and Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition Co-Chair. “Bears Ears has been a part of our cultures since time immemorial, and our Tribes have come together to stand in solidarity against those who oppose Tribal sovereignty and the conservation of our cultures.”
For more information on the Bears Ears National Monument proposal log on to: http://www.bearsearscoalition.org/proposal-overview/