Environment | National | Politics

Obama weighs tribal request for Bears Ears National Monument






Cedar Mesa in Utah was home to the ancestors of today's Pueblo tribes and other tribes and is part of the proposed Bears Ears National Monument. Photo by Don Romnes

President Barack Obama could establish the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah before he leaves office, The Washington Post reports.

The Navajo Nation, the Ute Tribe, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Hualapai Tribe and all 20 Pueblo governments are seeking stronger protections for the land. They still use the area for hunting, gathering and ceremonies and it is home to ancestral tribal villages.

"We’ve had the looting and grave robbing and destruction of sacred sites,” Eric Descheenie, the co-chair of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, told the Post.

Republicans, though, have been trying to discredit the effort. They have claimed that not all Navajo citizens want to see a monument even though six of the seven Navajo chapters in the state support a designation.

Tribes reached out to those Republicans -- Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) -- in hopes of including Bears Ears in the Utah Public Lands Initiative. But they said their concerns were ignored by the lawmakers.

The proposal in fact punishes the Ute Tribe, Kevin Washburn, the former head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, wrote in The Albuquerque Journal on Sunday. He said the draft bill takes land that is part of the Uncompahgre Reservation and gives it to the state.

"Though the archeological resources don’t have a measurable price tag like coal, oil and gas, many people agree that the archeology is far richer than any mineral resources that could be extracted," Washburn wrote. "And the ancient art needs much stronger protection from looters."

The debate comes as Obama declares three new national monuments with tribal connections in the desert of southern California. The Sand to Snow National Monument borders the Morongo Reservation and the Mojave Trails National Monument and Castle Mountains National Monument are home to ancestral tribal sites.

"The California desert is a cherished and irreplaceable resource for the people of southern California,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a press release. “It is an oasis of nature’s quiet beauty just outside two of our nation’s largest metropolitan areas. Its historic and cultural resources tell the stories of armies, travelers, ranchers, and miners, and of the original caretakers of this land. Today’s designation by the President furthers the longstanding work of public land managers and local communities to ensure these areas will remain preserved and accessible to the public for future generations.”

Get the Story:
Obama to designate new national monuments in the California desert (The Washington Post 2/12)
With 3 California Sites, Obama to Nearly Double Public Land He’s Protected (The New York Times 2/12)

Related Stories:
Kevin Washburn: Republicans punish tribe in public lands measure (2/8)
Tribes reiterate bid for national monument at Bears Ears in Utah (01/22)
Navajo Nation Council dispels misinformation about Bears Ears (10/29)
Tribes call for establishment of Bears Ears National Monument (10/16)
Jim Enote: Bears Ears worthy of status as national monument (10/14)
Tribes call for new national monument on sacred lands in Utah (8/5)