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Tribes oppose effort to stop Bears Ears National Monument in Utah






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

Tribal leaders are speaking out against an attempt to prevent President Barack Obama from establishing the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) submitted an amendment on Monday that bars the establishment of any national monument in the state unless Congress approves. Although there's no guarantee the provision will make it into S.2012, the Energy Policy Modernization Act, tribal leaders are already lobbying against it.

“This latest such attempt by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) will eviscerate the very law that was originally passed to help protect Native American sacred religious and cultural sites – the Antiquities Act, said Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk, the head councilwoman of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. "These are not merely symbolic protections we seek. The ancestral lands of the Bears Ears region continue to face rampant and ongoing looting and destruction of artwork and gravesites. These are acts that literally rob Native American people of spiritual connections, as well as a sense of place and history. They are insults to the dignity of our societies and traditional knowledge.”

The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe is part of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition. The group is calling on Obama to protect 1.9 million acres of sacred and historic lands in Utah.

"Bears Ears is not just a beautiful place; it is a vibrant cultural landscape that is home to more than 100,000 sacred cultural sites including ancient villages, cliff dwellings, rock art, and the gravesites of our ancestors," the coalition said in a statement.

Despite support from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Navajo Nation, the Ute Tribe, the Hualapai Tribe and all 20 Pueblo governments, Republicans in Utah oppose a monument designation. They have tried to undermine tribal support and have refused to include Bears Ears in their Utah Public Lands Initiative.

S.2012 is a bipartisan energy bill that Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, hopes to bring to the floor soon. According to Bloomberg BNA, Lee has placed a hold on the package due to concerns about a provision to address the lead water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

The text of Sen. Lee's amendment follows:
SEC. ____. REQUIREMENTS FOR ESTABLISHMENT OR EXPANSION OF NATIONAL MONUMENTS IN THE STATE OF UTAH.

Effective during the period beginning on the date of enactment of this Act and ending on the date that is 1 year after that date, no establishment or expansion of a National Monument in the State of Utah shall be carried out unless expressly authorized by Act of Congress.

Related Stories:
Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk: Protect Bears Ears for new generations (03/04)
Obama weighs tribal request for Bears Ears National Monument (02/12)
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)