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Tribune Editorial: Utah's national monuments have already justified themselves

Published April 27, 2017 6:39 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This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated.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 member tribes of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition hold the Bears Ears immediate landscape, as well as the lands fanning out from its twin plateaus, as traditional sacred lands. This land is a place where tribal traditional leaders and medicine people go to conduct ceremonies, collect herbs for medicinal purposes, and practice healing rituals stemming from time immemorial, as demonstrated through tribal creation stories."

— from the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition

National Monument Proposal



The review of the Bears Ears National Monument hasn't begun, but President Trump has already announced the results.

With Utah's governor and Congress members standing beside him, the president signed an executive order Wednesday to review presidential designations of national monuments. If there was any question which state was driving this, the answer came in the decision on which monuments to review. The order's 21-year window is bookended by President Clinton's 1996 declaration of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and President Obama's Bears Ears National Monument earlier this year.

"I've spoken with many state and local leaders, a number of them here today, who care very much about preserving our land and who are gravely concerned about this massive federal land grab, and it's gotten worse and worse and worse, and now we're going to free it up, which is what should have happened in the first place."

"This should never have happened."

The president's justification is built on factual sand. "Federal land grab"? Both monuments were already federal land before they were declared. "Preserving our land"? There is no argument to be made that monuments haven't preserved land. "Free it up?" What does that even mean? Free to overgraze and drive wherever we want? We've been there, and no one wants that.

For his part, new Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in his press briefing that monument designations have resulted in lost jobs. But when he was pressed to identify such losses, he couldn't. Instead he said his review will determine that.

This must be more than a search for reasons to unrecognize Utah's national treasures. Rescinding a monument would be unprecedented and sure to be a long legal fight, and just changing boundaries will end up in court while changing little on the ground.

Meanwhile, the changes that are taking place in southern Utah — both social and economic — are not caused by monuments and won't be reversed by rescinding them.

Nor should they. While the old guard in Garfield and Kane counties have chafed for decades over their scapegoat, new families have moved in to embrace visitors who want to see what our nation considers monumental. How long before Garfield, like Moab's Grand, flips to recognizing the brand power of national recognition?

And Bears Ears? Well, that adds one more destructive element.

The notion of a Bears Ears National Monument was brought forth by five sovereign nations within the United States. The Hopi, Navajo, Ute Mountain Ute, Pueblo of Zuni and Ute Indian Tribes — which have a long and sometimes bitter history with each other — came together in unprecedented unity to recognize a land that is both historically important and sacred to them.

The tribes brought their desires to Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, arguably the most powerful person in Congress on public lands. He sent them away and fashioned his own plan — the Public Lands Initiative — that has gone nowhere in Congress.

They went to Herbert and the Utah Legislature, and they weren't just shunned. They were minimized. They were characterized as pawns in powerful environmental groups' pockets. In fact, even the environmentalists were surprised by the sudden rise of Bears Ears. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, long Bishop's nemesis, was pushing the president to expand Canyonlands National Park with a monument declaration.

Left without a legislative path, the tribes turned to President Obama, which is what Bishop, Herbert and legislators knew they would do. Even knowing Hillary Clinton had a strong chance to follow Obama, Utahns decided they would rather go down shaking their fists at a monument than sit down and talk with the Indians.

This continues a long history of disenfranchisement in Utah, one of the last states to allow Indians to vote, and then only under court order. (It was 1957. Some Indians denied the vote are still alive.)

Despite roughly half of its population being Indian, San Juan County didn't have its first Native county commissioner until 1986, and then after the Reagan Department of Justice sued the county under the Voting Rights Act. And just last year another federal judge ruled against the county over its 2011 redistricting, calling it racially motivated.

Today, Utah leaders try to cast Utah Navajos as split on the monument, pointing to a minority of Navajo supporters. In fact, six of seven Navajo chapters in Utah have voted in favor of the monument, citing its sacred importance. Once again, our white leaders are only hearing the Navajo voices that will agree with them.

The Bears Ears represents a monumental chance for healing with Indian nations. Instead, it's become opportunity to remind Native Americans of their limited power and place.

Religious freedom indeed.

If this is a review and not a charade, it will come down to Ryan Zinke. Unlike his president, Zinke in his briefing was careful not to say the outcome was preordained. Even to the jobs question, he recognized that monuments have added jobs, and that would be part of the analysis. Zinke also pledged support for keeping public lands public, and he has a long history of working with Indian tribes.

There is no oil pipeline that needs to cross the Bears Ears, Secretary Zinke. There is no boom to be unleashed if the monument vanished, and multiple use is specifically called for in the president's monument proclamation.

An honest assessment will show our monuments should stand until our leaders can catch up to our future.

 

 

 

 

 

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