Here’s the release from Utah Diné Bikéyah:
Utah Dine Bikeyah, in collaboration with the five Tribes of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, is honored to learn that earlier today President Barack Obama designated Bears Ears National Monument—the first National Monument to celebrate Native American living cultural traditions.
UDB received word today that President Obama has exercised his Congressionally delegated authority under the Antiquities Act to permanently protect 1.35 million acres of the Bears Ears proposal in southeastern Utah. We welcome this proclamation.
President Obama’s action comes in response to the historic request of Native American people, led by the five Tribes of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition: Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, and the Ute Tribe of the Uinta Ouray Reservation. Thirty regional Tribes passed formal resolutions of support for Bears Ears National Monument, as did the National Congress of American Indians, representing more then 300 Tribes across the United States. In addition, more than 225,000 individuals wrote letters and signed petitions calling on President Obama to heed the call of sovereign tribal nations and designate America’s most significant unprotected cultural landscape as a National Monument.
Today’s victory marks the first time in history that Native American Tribes have called for and succeeded in protecting their sacred ancestral homelands through National Monument designation by a President of the United States of America. In this way, Bears Ears National Monument represents the first truly Native American National Monument in U.S. history.
Bears Ears National Monument is the result of years of grassroots community organizing by local Native American people and government-to-government leadership by sovereign tribal nations. Tribes have united in the effort to protect the 100,000+ archaeological and cultural sites within the Bears Ears region from rampant looting, grave-robbing and vandalism, while preventing further extractive development on lands that we rely on to this day for physical and spiritual sustenance. Monument designation ensures that future generations of all people will be able to return to Bears Ears for healing, renewal, prayer, and to visit the resting places of our ancestors, whose spirits are still very much alive in this landscape.
This designation is both durable and defensible, as it reflects the will of a majority of Utahns as well as the wish of peoples who have lived here since time immemorial. UDB and our allies applaud this action by President Obama, and we thank the Administration and agencies for collaborating with our sovereign tribal nations and listening to the voices of Native American people. We look forward to helping craft a land management plan for the first National Monument to be collaboratively managed by Tribes.
Our thanks go out to the tens of thousands of supporters who continue to stand with Bears Ears and what it means to all U.S. citizens. We thank President Obama for this courageous and historic act. And we give thanks to the Creator for this place of healing, which is now protected for current and future generations, forever.
Willie Grayeyes – UDB Board Chairman
“I am deeply delighted that the Bears Ears National Monument is now one of the nation’s greatest treasures for all people and future generations to enjoy. I would also like to express my appreciation to President Obama for hearing our voice and listening to the grassroots people, the unity of tribal governments, and all other supporters who stood by us on this powerful path to healing.”
Peterson Zah – Former Navajo Nation President
“On behalf of the Navajo Nation, we extend our deepest appreciation to President Obama and his administration for making the Bears Ears National Monument a reality. The President’s designation is a testament to the will of sovereign Indian nations, as well as the hard work of our people on the ground who worked tirelessly years ago leading up today. It was their vision, determination, and purpose rooted in our traditional ways that contributed greatly to today’s shared accomplishment. This is a dynamic National Monument ready for greatness. We have much to look forward to.”
Jonah Yellowman – UDB Board Member & spiritual advisor, Navajo medicine man
“Thank you great Creator. Thank you to all the supporters and for all the prayers that have been sent. Thank you everyone that stood by us for the land that we love.
This is history-making. The plants and the animals, all beings celebrate the protection of Bears Ears National Monument. Our ancestors are looking down upon us, grateful. It’s so important that we stay with our stories, our practices, and our ceremonial ways of being. We will continue the practices and teach our little ones. They will learn this land, our prayers, and our songs. There is hope out ahead for the younger generations.
Thank you, President Obama, for listening to our prayers and protecting our Bears Ears.”
Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk – Ute Mountain Ute tribal member & former tribal Councilwoman, former Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition Co-Chair
“We all share gratitude for the courage of President Obama embracing this moment to change history rather than than repeat history. We want to continue to see healing through better relationships and clear communication, with tribal entities recognized as sovereign voices. All of us, Native and non-Native, want to be solemn participants at the table as we strive for solutions. We have spoken about protecting what this place was to our ancestors, and we will continue to share that in preparation for the next seven generations.
Here’s a guest opinion from Tom Kenworthy writing in The High Country News. Here’s an excerpt:
At a state Capitol rally led by Republican Gov. Gary Herbert and Republican Sen. Mike Lee a few days before Christmas, a chorus of wailing warned against a “midnight monument” and executive overreach. Their criticism was to be expected, and now that the president has acted, what will likely follow is a serious assault on our public lands and the Antiquities Act itself, which authorizes presidents to protect federal lands as national monuments.
The Utah anti-monument crowd had continually mischaracterized the process that led to Obama’s decision, failing to acknowledge the broad public support the monument proposal enjoyed. The campaign for the Bears Ears designation was initiated and carried across the finish line by a coalition of Southwestern Native American tribes.
The tribes’ ancestral ties to the region, and their sorrow over the repeated desecration of its archaeology and sacred sites, give them unquestioned legitimacy and moral authority. The monument drive encompassed a long and open public dialogue that revealed a broad consensus that the lands in question needed conserving. The president’s signature came only after federal legislation failed to accomplish that conservation objective.
But no matter how a consensus grew supporting a monument designation, many Utah politicians argued that the president’s action to protect 1.35 million acres as a monument was an abuse of executive power. They also called it a land grab that trampled on the rights of San Juan County locals to use those federal lands — which belong to all Americans — however they saw fit.
That song has been sung in Utah for generations, even as big swaths of federal land — originally protected as monuments — evolved into national parks that have become cash cows in the state’s thriving recreation economy.
The same politicians who fulminate about the “mother of all land grabs,” go on national park tours to celebrate the more than $1 billion that Utah’s five national parks hoover into the economy each year. And they make sure the parks are celebrated on license plates, in tourist-wooing television ads, and a campaign trumpeting the “Mighty 5” national parks — Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon.
Somehow, these critics never get around to mentioning that four of those five parks started life as national monuments, created by “abusive” presidential authority.
Now that conservative Republicans — many of them hostile to protected public lands — have a hammerlock on Washington as powerful as the one they’ve long had on Utah’s capital, that song has a new verse. And it promises a concerted attack on the bedrock American ideal that federal lands should be managed in the public interest.
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rep. Rob Bishop, whose campaign account is regularly blessed by the fossil fuel, mining and timber industries, has been warbling that tune in the ears of President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team. Bishop says he wants not only to neuter the Antiquities Act but also to undo existing national monuments, including Grand Staircase-Escalante. He would like to hand over these public lands to the states and private developers.
Bishop had a chance to broker a sensible truce in Utah’s long wilderness wars. More than three years ago, he kicked off what at first appeared to be serious talks with county governments, conservation groups and other stakeholders. But his long-awaited Public Lands Initiative turned out to be little more than a despoilers’ bill of rights that caved in to the demands of county commissioners. In Utah, these are likely to be the same folks whose idea of stewardship is bulldozing illegal roads across public lands. The bill went nowhere in the waning days of the last Congress.