Environment | National | Politics

Opponents rely on dirty tricks as tribes aim to protect sacred land






Campers destroyed a 19th-century Navajo hogan by using the structure as firewood. Photo from Bears Ears Coalition

Opponents of the proposed Bears Ears National Monument are trying to instill fear among members of the Navajo Nation who otherwise support protections for 1.9 million acres of sacred and historic land in Utah.

Six of the seven Navajo Chapters in Utah support the designation. But Republican politicians and local officials -- including the only tribal member on the San Juan County Commission -- have repeatedly insisted that Navajo citizens do not want to see the monument.

That's probably why someone put up letters that claimed the Interior Department was planning to reduce the size of the Navajo Reservation by creating the monument. The documents, including one purportedly signed by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, were faked.

"These letters represent a new low from our opponents who are fabricating lies and impersonating Navajo and federal officials," said the Utah Dine Bikeyah, a group of Navajo residents in Utah who support the monument.

The Navajo Nation isn't the only tribe backing the monument. The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition includes the Ute Tribe, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Hualapai Tribe and all 20 Pueblo governments.

“We put aside the sense of who came here first and who came here last,” said Carleton Bowekaty, a council member for the Pueblo of Zuni in New Mexico told The Washington Post. “We’re not confined by reservation lines. We’re not confined by state lines.”

Pueblo, Hualapai, Navajo and Ute ancestors all have called Bears Ears home at one point or another. Tribal members also continue to go to the region for ceremonies, hunting, gathering and other activities.

According to the tribal coalition, the area is home to more than 100,000 archaeological sites that have been targeted for looting and grave-robbing for more than a century. Between May 2014 and April 2015, more than a dozen looting cases were reported at Bears Ears.

Motorized vehicles and human traffic also pose threats. On one occasion, campers burned down a 19th-century hogan that was once home to a Navajo family. They used the structure as firewood.

Jewell plans to visit Bears Ears this summer, The Washington Post reported. A final decision on the monument would be up to President Barack Obama.

Get the Story:
Forged letters mislead Utah residents about Native American land proposal (The Guardian 6/5)
A major Native American site is being looted. Will Obama risk armed conflict to save it? (The Washington Post 6/5)

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Editorial: Obama should declare a Bears Ears National Monument (04/25)
Rebecca Benally: Navajos in Utah oppose Bears Ears monument (04/13)
Non-Indian official decries effort to protect sacred lands in Utah (03/15)
Tribes oppose effort to stop Bears Ears National Monument in Utah (03/10)
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 with public lands initiative (02/08)
Tribes reiterate bid for national monument at Bears Ears in Utah (01/22)
Navajo Nation Council dispels misinformation about Bears Ears (10/29)
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Jim Enote: Bears Ears worthy of status as national monument (10/14)
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