An Incredible Response for Bears Ears National Monument

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The comment period for Bears Ears and other national monuments ended on July 10.  More than 1.3 million comments were submitted! NARF would like to thank all of you who took the time to speak up and stand firm against corporate interests.

We invite you to read the comment submitted by the coalition of tribes who have long-standing historical, cultural, and spiritual ties to the land known as Bears Ears.

In his interim report to President Trump, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended that the president revise the existing boundaries of the Bears Ears National Monument at the completion of the 120-day monument review.  The announcement does not change the tribes’ view that monuments cannot be revoked or diminished by the president. It does not matter whether the decision is now or later. The only correct decision is to keep Bears Ears AS-IS.

The five tribes whose members continue to use the Monument for cultural and religious purposes to this day (Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, Zuni Tribe, Uintah and Ouray Ute, and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe) led the effort to establish the Bears Ears National Monument. Increased looting of the estimated 100,000 plus structures, sites, and objects within every reach of the monument dictated the need for protections in the form of a monument designation. The Bears Ears Monument was established after years of careful and detailed fact-finding accompanied by a lengthy and open public commenting process. The openness of the process to designate this monument was unprecedented.

“Bears Ears has been targeted because it holds resource potential that the oil & gas industry wants to access.  Opening the monument to development will threaten cultural and natural resources that can never be replaced,” said Native American Rights Fund Staff Attorney Natalie Landreth.Our national parks, public lands and waters protect a shared history and culture that are worth more than the minerals beneath them. “

There is no authority, statutory or otherwise, for the gathering of public comments on monuments already established. It’s a completely made-up process to make a diminishment or revocation look “open.” Ms. Landreth explains, “Only Congress has the power to dispose of federal property, and they have delegated to the President ONLY the authority to establish monuments. He has no power to do otherwise, so this review process is pointless.”

Bears Ears was singled out for a ridiculously short fifteen-day comment period.  Despite this, there were more than 1,000,000 comments received, including petitions, and they overwhelmingly support maintaining Bears Ears (with 99% of comments expressing support for the monuments).

The monument does not threaten public access and it maintains local uses such as hunting, fishing, gathering, and other existing rights. Tourism associated with national monuments has been shown to boost local economies.  The comments submitted by local residents show support for Bears Ears by a ratio of 9 to 1. In a recent survey, 64% of Utah residents support Bears Ears National Monument as-is. The surrounding tribes all support this. So the tribes have spoken: KEEP IT. Local residents have spoken: KEEP IT. Utah residents have spoken: KEEP IT.

Stand Firm for Bears Ears
April 2017

Last December, President Obama designated an area of great importance in southeastern Utah as a national monument known as “Bears Ears.”  On April 26, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order directing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to conduct a two-part review, aimed first at the Bears Ears National Monument in Southeastern Utah and then at other post-1995 monument designations made pursuant to the Antiquities Act.

Pictographs. Photo credit: Jonathan Bailey

Pictographs. Photo credit: Jonathan Bailey

The stated policy of the order is to review all monuments created since 1996 to determine if they were created without “public outreach and proper coordination.” However, the Bears Ears National Monument was created after decades of advocacy and many public meetings in the region and in Washington, DC, over the past two years. The effort to protect Bears Ears was very long, very public, and very robust. To say that it needs review to determine if the proper outreach was conducted is an outrage and nothing more than pretext to withdraw Bears Ears from monument protection altogether.

Bears Ears is a homeland to five tribes (Navajo, Ute Mountain Ute, Uintah and Ouray Ute, Hopi and Zuni) as well as other Southwestern tribes. Like countless other tribes across the United States, Native people were removed from Bears Ears by threat and coercion and forced onto reservations.  However, the threats of a hostile government could not keep people away from the place they called home since time immemorial.  Bears Ears is an area filled with sacred sites, hunting grounds, and medicines that are all still utilized today, and it is a place where Native ancestors are buried and to be honored.

Monument management is to be guided in part by a Bears Ears Commission made up of commissioners from five tribes whose members continue to use the Monument for cultural and religious purposes to this day: Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, Zuni Tribe, Uintah and Ouray Ute, and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.

“The Trump administration’s review of Bears Ears is extremely disappointing because Bears Ears is one of the most important places to Indian Country and the Tribes fought hard to ensure that this sacred area was protected,” said John Echohawk, Executive Director of the Native American Rights Fund (NARF).

Cultural site. Photo credit: Tim Peterson

Cultural site. Photo credit: Tim Peterson

“Make no mistake, this order has nothing to do with asking for public input.  They got that in creating the Bears Ears Monument. They just don’t like the result.  This order is about taking away public lands from the American people in order to free them up for resource exploitation,” said NARF Staff Attorney Natalie Landreth. “Secretary Zinke has not responded to a single letter from the tribes about Bears Ears. We call on Secretary Zinke to honor our tribes, respect tribal sovereignty—as he explicitly said he would do—and protect Bears Ears,” said NARF Staff Attorney Matthew Campbell.

The Native American Rights Fund represent the Hopi Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and will fight to protect the Bears Ears National Monument.