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Op-ed: Bears Ears Tribal Commission brings a native voice to the table

Published April 8, 2017 3:00 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Bears Ears Tribal Commission

President Obama's declaration of the Bears Ears National Monument on December 28th, 2016 validated the considerable effort by Tribes and local community members to protect and manage the living cultural landscape of the Bears Ears region of southeastern Utah. Through the Bears Ears National Monument, Native Nations are bringing their voices to the management of our public lands, and all Americans will benefit from the ancient wisdom of our people.

This has begun with the formation of the Bears Ears Tribal Commission. The Bears Ears' proclamation calls for a partnership t between land management agencies and our five tribes (Navajo, Hopi, Ute, Ute Mountain Ute, and Zuni), each represented on this Bears Ears Tribal Commission. Each of our tribes has carefully considered the appointment of representatives to the Commission. Our Commission will be working alongside federal agencies to provide guidance and recommendations on the planning and management of the new monument.

Our inaugural meeting was held in Bluff, Utah, within view of the new monument on March 30, 2017. There, we envisioned our purpose, elected Commission co-chairs, began to identify management issues requiring immediate attention, and prepared for our first meeting with federal land managers.

The Commission is grounded in the shared understanding that Bears Ears is a sacred landscape where the spirits of the ancestors still dwell. Bears Ears is exceptional among national monuments – it recognizes Native American Traditional Knowledge as a value to be protected by the national monument and to be used in its management. Integrative land management will blossom here – where Native American Traditional Knowledge works together with western science to ensure that the land and all our other-than-human relatives flourish in a dance of reverence, respect, and reciprocity. Caring for this place is a duty, a responsibility, and an honor – one that we do not take lightly.

We, as a Commission, are keenly aware that we are protecting and preserving an area deeply important to Indian Country and the United States. We are honored to carry this responsibility for Indian Country, for this landscape, and for all Americans. We look forward to working with local communities, many of whom will work with us to uplift their abilities to protect and manage our shared natural resources. We are eager to showcase traditional land care knowledge and officially join our federal partners as caretakers of our ancestral lands – bringing our traditional knowledge and ancestral wisdom to the table. And we are proud to elevate Native voices in public land management, a long-overdue step in the federal government's trust responsibility to our Indian Nations.

Nowhere in the United States is this more appropriate than at Bears Ears. This is not by chance. This unique region houses both ecologically whole landscapes and culturally whole tribes. It is rich with knowledge, history, and many sacred resources we use to sustain our culture – some of which, like medicines and ceremonial materials, are found nowhere else. These lands are part of us and inseparable from our communities; their health is intertwined with ours.

The formation of the Bears Ears Tribal Commission is a bold step forward for America's public lands. It is progress that is occurring despite the assault on Bears Ears National Monument being waged by some of Utah's elected officials. Implicit in the responsibility that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke carries with his office is a promise to advance progress for our public lands and for Native Nations carefully and deliberately, not to diminish either with hasty actions.

As Secretary Zinke prepares to visit the Bears Ears, we look forward to meeting with him in person to discuss our shared desire to protect this spectacular region. And, in the years to come, we look forward to working with his office to create a legacy of healing – healing for the tribes, healing for this unique and incredible landscape, and healing for all Americans.

The Bears Ears Tribal Commission is: Co-Chair Carleton Bowekaty, Pueblo of Zuni; Co-Chair Terry Knight, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe; Shaun Chapoose, Ute Indian Tribe; Alfred Lomahquahu, Hopi Tribe; and Davis Filfred and James Adakai, Navajo Nation.




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