When phrase got here down on Dec. 28 that President Barack Obama had created a 1.35 million-acre nationwide monument referred to as Bears Ears, Jonah Yellowman celebrated. So did leaders of his Navajo individuals and different tribes that not often have a lot to cheer about, such because the Hopi, Ute and Zuni.
But the festivities didn’t final lengthy. Angered at Obama, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and different Republicans shortly lobbied President Donald Trump to rescind or reduce the monument. For Yellowman, such a reversal would symbolize a historic betrayal. He and different activists have spent years making an attempt to guard Bears Ears and its cliff dwellings and different antiquities.
“Individuals are goal capturing at our rock carvings,” stated Yellowman, a Navajo elder. “They’re chopping out our pictographs, our tales, and taking them away and promoting them.”
Throughout the West and past, Native People are resisting the administration on a number of fronts. In North Dakota, two tribes have filed lawsuits towards Trump’s approval of the 1,172-mile-lengthy Dakota Entry pipeline, which skirts the Standing Rock reservation. Tribes are preventing oil and fuel tasks in Texas, Oklahoma and different states.
Whereas Native People have lengthy organized to counter perceived threats, Trump’s election has made it “extra visceral,” stated David Wealthy Lewis, a historian at Utah State College who focuses on tribal environmental points.
Trump has a historical past of clashing with tribes over casinos and different developments. He additionally has vowed to open up extra federal lands to power improvement, together with these in and round Indian Nation. Extra lately, he has embraced as a hero former President Andrew Jackson, a number one advocate of “Indian removing” within the American West.
Individuals are goal capturing at our rock carvings. They’re chopping out our pictographs, our tales, and taking them away and promoting them. Jonah Yellowman, Navajo elder
In Utah, Bears Ears is known as for a pair of eight,seven hundred-foot-excessive buttes that rise from the Colorado Plateau. Spanning 2,one hundred sq. miles – an space bigger than Delaware – the brand new nationwide monument stretches from Canyonlands Nationwide Park within the north to the Navajo Nation within the south.
It’s a distant and rugged panorama – “a milieu of the accessible and observable along with the inaccessible and hidden,” as Obama stated in a proclamation defending the land. Hidden amongst these forests and purple-rock canyons are hundreds of documented archaeological websites, the remnants of early settlers within the space – the Historic Puebloans, or Anasazi.
A number of of those websites are visibly broken. On the Wolf Panel, a wall of rock carvings on Comb Ridge, gun-toting guests have used the panel for goal apply. Pottery has been stolen from cliff dwellings. Elsewhere, the wooden frames of previous hogans – the normal dwellings of nomadic Navajo – have been knocked down or hauled away for firewood.
“I don’t know why somebody would do one thing like that,” Yellowman stated throughout a current go to to the remnants of previous hogans. “Both they’re being informed to do it, or they don’t care.”
For tribal leaders, Obama’s designation provided conservation protections and offered a political increase. Obama’s proclamation, for the primary time, grants authority to the tribes to co-handle a big nationwide monument. “The tribes have by no means earlier than gotten collectively to work on one thing like this,” stated Alfred Lomahquahu Jr., a vice chairman of the Hopi Tribe who calls the association unprecedented.
Beneath the Antiquities Act, presidents maintain the authority to determine nationwide monuments to assist protect pure, cultural or scientific websites. Theodore Roosevelt signed the act into regulation in 1906 and was shortly the primary president to make use of it – creating the Devils Tower Nationwide Monument in Wyoming and the 800,000-acre Grand Canyon nationwide monument, which later turned a nationwide park.
Altogether, Obama established 29 nationwide monuments throughout his two phrases, a rebuff to a recalcitrant Congress. After the U.S. Home of Representatives declined to behave on public lands laws to guard Bears Ears, Obama created the monument throughout his final weeks in workplace.
Appearing on a petition by Indian tribes and their environmental supporters, Obama decreased the proposed measurement of the Bears Ears designation from 1.9 million acres to 1.35 million. However that didn’t mollify critics akin to U.S. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who instantly referred to as it an “boastful act by a lame-duck president.” Gov. Herbert stated he was deeply dissatisfied.
“It’s the drawback of somebody unilaterally making a choice with out bearing in mind the positions and considerations of native individuals,” stated Herbert in a current interview with McClatchy.
For many years, Utah politicians have chafed over what they see as federal dominance of their residence affairs. Federal lands make up two-thirds of Utah, which is residence to 5 nationwide parks, eight nationwide monuments and 31 wilderness areas.
Some are nonetheless seething over President Invoice Clinton’s creation of the 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante Nationwide Monument in 1996. Critics say that, whereas drawing tourism dollars to the southeast a part of Utah, such expansive designations deprive the state of potential income from mining and power improvement, usually prohibited in nationwide monuments.
Underneath Obama’s directive, Bears Ears can be off limits to new mining and oil and fuel drilling, however ranchers might proceed to lease land for livestock grazing. A type of ranchers is Sandy Johnson, whose household has raised cattle since 1920 in and round Fry Canyon, an remoted stretch of the brand new monument.
With a weathered face and palms calloused by many years of rope dealing with, Johnson and his household graze roughly 330 cattle on an allotment of 350,000 acres. Annually is a crap shoot, with the climate and rainfall dictating what sort of grass will probably be obtainable for feed. Each spring, he and his son Preston mount their horses and drive the cattle from the decrease nation to the excessive pastures west of Bears Ears. Within the fall, they transfer them down the mountain and promote the calves for his or her yearly revenue.
Federal officers have informed Johnson that, with the brand new monument, his household will be capable of proceed ranching as they’ve for many years. He doubts these guarantees will stand the check of time.
“They will say all they need, however as soon as that land is put in a monument, they will prohibit it down,” he stated, sitting at his kitchen desk on the household’s residence in Fry Canyon. “Quickly will probably be off limits for me, the 4-wheelers, the miners, everyone.”
They will say all they need, however as soon as that land is put in a monument, they’re going to prohibit it down. Sandy Johnson, native rancher
Like many opponents of Obama’s motion, Johnson and his spouse, Gail, blame the brand new monument on “outdoors environmentalists” which have used Native People as “entrance teams.” As Trump supporters, the Johnsons hope the brand new president will roll again the monument designation.
The ranching couple additionally dismiss claims that Bears Ears is a sacred website for native tribes. “The final two years they’ve had a gathering up there, and that’s the solely time we’ve seen them up there,” stated Sandy Johnson.
“That may be a fable,” responded Lomahquahu. He and others say monument opponents are engaged in a technique to delegitimize Native American pursuits, a part of a sample that dates to frontier days.
“The tribes have been going as much as Bears Ears earlier than the Mormons arrived one hundred fifty years in the past,” Lomahquahu stated whereas attending a current conservation gathering in Bluff, Utah. Native People nonetheless maintain ceremonies within the Bears Ears space, he added, “however we don’t present these to outsiders.”
The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe is one with shut ties to Bears Ears. The tribe, as soon as unfold throughout japanese Utah and western Colorado, left behind rock carvings and artifacts earlier than federal troops forcibly moved the tribe to reservations, together with one in southwestern Colorado.
Together with the Navajo, the Ute have a particular reverence for bears, typically referring to them as “grandfather.” Within the native folklore, Bears Ears was the place the place the bruins first got here out of hibernation annually.
“Proper after the spring is probably the most lovely time to go up there, with all of the flowers blooming,” stated Mary Jane Yazzie, a Ute elder. She has a view of Bears Ears from her modest house in White Mesa, east of the monument, and nonetheless visits the excessive nation for ceremonies and rest.
In response to Lomahquahu and others, the origins of the monument marketing campaign got here in 2010, when former Sen. Rob Bennett, D-Utah, introduced an initiative to settle native public-lands disputes. Bennett requested the tribes to supply enter, however earlier than he might flip his proposal into laws, he misplaced his re-election bid and was changed by Lee, a Republican.
By 2014, advocates say, that they had given up on congressional efforts to guard Bears Ears as a part of a wider deal on Utah public lands. Two conservation teams, Pals of Cedar Mesa and Utah Dine Bikeyah, then urged tribal leaders to return collectively as a coalition to hunt monument standing. “What they realized is that the tribes themselves have the power to talk on to the federal authorities,” stated Lomahquahu, referring to tribal regulation.
Yazzie, the Ute elder, chuckled when requested whether or not she had been “purchased off” by environmental teams, as opponents declare. “The place is the cash?” she laughed, gesturing towards her dilapidated house and dusty yard.
Yazzie stated she had determined to hitch the marketing campaign – in addition to Dine Bikeyah’s board – for a number of causes, not simply conservation considerations. She hoped that by being on the desk, she might assist elevate the voices of her individuals on a variety of native points. “All Native People have ties with one another and ties to the land,” she stated, including that she feels a kinship with tribes preventing the Dakota Entry pipeline and different power tasks.
The Bears Ears designation doubtless has widened divisions in San Juan County – a rural county with a historical past of racial pressure. As of the 2010 census, greater than 50 % of the inhabitants was Native American, however all native commissions have been managed by whites. In 2016, a federal district courtroom struck down the county’s follow of mapping all Navajo voters right into a single district, calling it “racial gerrymandering.”
In line with Yazzie, a retired schoolteacher, Native American youngsters proceed to face bigotry in public faculties.
Not all of the county’s Native People help the monument, simply as not all non-natives oppose it. However the battle strains are at the least partially racial. In 2014, San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman defied federal warnings and led a rally of all-terrain automobiles into Recapture Wash, which had been closed to vehicular visitors to guard Native American artifacts. Lyman was accompanied by armed militiamen, including to fears that native public-lands disputes might ultimately flip violent.
Lyman spent 10 days in jail for defying federal authorities, however he stays on the county fee and is lively in lobbying towards Bears Ears. At a current assembly, he expressed hope that U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican who represents the world, might assist roll again the monument designation.
“It’s superb that we’ve got the chairman of the Home oversight committee,” stated Lyman. “He’s our congressman and he’s an actual advocate.”
Lomahquahu stated he and different tribal leaders have been bracing for a authorized battle, and have been networking with their allies. Nationwide environmental teams such because the Wilderness Society and Conservation Lands Basis are lending help. In January, actor Leonardo DiCaprio joined with different philanthropies to pledge $1.5 million for the monument, which is more likely to obtain few if any federal funds to handle it.
“There are an entire slew of individuals behind us,” stated Lomahquahu. “That’s going to make it very troublesome for Trump or anybody else.”