Page 1

Native people have inhabited the land of this great nation for thousands of years leaving behind ancient ruins and artifacts that are historically significant to our country and its culture. For the Native Americans these homelands, the ones that have survived colonization, are sacred to them. They are symbolic to their heritage and allow them to connect spiritually to their ancestors. Though the natives would argue these sites are too sacred to contain monetary value, their are some who do not share the same respect for the land. This lack of respect was shamefully illustrated by looters in the destruction and theft of artifacts from the sites during the early 20th century. These events are what led to the creation of the Antiquities Act in 1906. The act was passed by congress in order to grant immediate protection to sites with natural, historical, or scientific significance without having to go through the lengthy process of becoming a National Park. It gives the authority to the president to declare a proclamation awarding National Monument status to federally owned lands that are in danger of irreversible loss of historical significance. The land contained within the monument allows for federal punishment of crimes that disturbs its preservation. The status of National Monument allows for the continuation of current archeological excavation and resource extraction, but requires a permit from the Secretary of Defense to being new projects (Bears). The act includes the right of the president to create monuments but does not address their reduction or elimination. It does however include guidelines to the size stating “the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected� (American). Since 1906 over 150 monuments have been declared, designating more than 700 million acres across the country. During the Obama administration 29 new monuments encompassing around 500 million acres across the country. The administration holds the record for the most land designated to National Monuments during a single presidency (Vincent). Of these monuments declared Bears Ears National Monument, in San Juan County Utah, has become the most controversial. It was the first ever monument to be created that appointed a coalition of Native American leaders to co-manage the land alongside the federal government. This was upsetting to the local residents and government in San Juan County who were working toward a compromise of protection and usage of the land, for economic development, without monument status. These citizens asked that President Trump resined the monument status of Bears Ears, arguing that this proclamation was a gross misuse of presidential authority. Trump ordered the current Secretary of Interior, Ryan Zinke, to re-evaluate the size of all monuments created since 1996, including Bears Ears. In 2017, the size of the monument was reduced significantly from 1.3 million acres to only around 200,000 acres. Environmentalists argue that the president does not have the right to reduce National Monuments and have threatened to take legal action against the administration over the reduction (Little).


The history of Bears Ears is rich in cultural diversity and tangible ancient artifacts cultivated during the 12,000 years it has been inhabited by humans. The wonders of this land include over 100,000 sites containing historical significance. The vast land consists of rock art including pictographs and petroglyphs, villages with cliff dwellings and pit houses, ceremonial cites, shrines, graves, as well as endemic species and habitats (Bears). The five native tribes that occupy this area have not always gotten along, but carry the same connection to the spirit of the land. The Navajo, Hopi, Ute Indian, Ute Mountain Ute, and Zuni tribes although they may have different words for the two distinct twin buttes that make the land unique, they all have the same interpretation “bears ears�. The natives have a special connection to the land and still use its natural resources as their only source of livelihood. They claim to use rivers to fish for food, the trees for wood to create warmth and shelter, and the vegetation for medicinal care. They believe that if they don’t work toward protecting the area from looters and energy development that their way of life will be threatened. The fight for the monument started back in 2010 when the Navajo tribe submitted a land-use proposal to their state government. The government offered to sponsor the creation of a National Conservation Area that would appease both the conservation and development of the land. A plan to develop a Public Land Initiative began in 2013 and took nearly three years to complete. During this time the five native tribes came together for the first time in history to form a coalition of tribal leaders to work towards preserving the integrity of the land. Tired of waiting for the initiative, they decided to bring their proposal of a National Monument to the Obama administration in 2015. A year later Utahs government released a proposal that included 1.3 million acres of land but did not include joint management with the coalition. Hoping they had the support of the federal government for the monument they opposed the states proposal because it failed to respect the requests of the coalition. This paid off later that year when President Obama signed a proclamation designating 1.3 million acres of land as the Bears Ears National Monument, including a commission of tribal leaders to oversee the management of the land (Meyer).


The time for celebration was not shared across the county however. Many citizens and government officials strongly disagreed with the decision to create the monument. They believe their rights were infringed upon when the federal government essentially took land away that could be used for economic development. Residents against the monument argue that they care for the land just as much as the natives and wanted to work together to preserve the land without restricting its use. One of the strongest oppositions to the monument has been the concern of tourism to the area that would arguably bring more destruction to the land than resource extraction. Officials decided they would not back down from this fight against the monument. When President Trump took office in 2017 the Governor of Utah, Gary Herbert, called for the reduction Bears Ears (Meyer). Trump decided to take action by giving his Secretary of Interior the task of visiting the monument for re-evaluation of its boarders. This was not the first time a president has reduced a National Monument, however it was the first to be reduced by almost 85 percent of its original size (NordHaus). The decision to request a reduction of the monument led the outdoor company REI to take their business out of state. This made the win for those who opposed the monument short lived since the retailer brought in 45 million in revenue to Salt Lake City each year during their roadshow. Meaning the whole process has resulted, one way or another, in a loss for everyone involved. The tug of war created from this controversy has only just began its long journey into the legal system. A coalition between environmentalist groups, tribal leaders, and all those in favor of the monument have filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration. The suit argues that President Trump did not have the right to reduce the monument, while the opposing side argues that the Obama administration created a monument thats size was larger than needed to preserve its historical significance. The current administration has stated the Antiquities Act used to create monuments is outdated and should be revised or even abolished (Loris). The truth is both sides of this controversy have legitimate arguments that are difficult to dispute. It seems callous to disregard the requests of Native Americans when it comes to their rights of preservation of their ancestral homeland. However, I think in this case it is important to take into consideration the willingness of the community to work with the natives in support of conservation of the land. That being said I think both sides were a little ambitious in their demands. It is my belief that if these groups could go back and work together they could come up with a compromise that would have a better outcome for all parties involved. It is my opinion that the residents who opposed the monument do respect the land and do want to work towards preserving its integrity. However, they need to include the natives in the decisions of land-use not only as consultants but they need an equal voice. The natives have been incredibly patient in their assimilation into modern society and only ask for equal consideration in the use of their land. I believe the fight for Bears Ears is an example of how not working together and having respect for others leads to unnecessary pain and suffering for everyone involved.


Bears Ears National Monument: Questions and Answers. Forset Service, www.fs.fed.us/sites/ default/files/bear-ears-fact-sheet.pdf. “American Antiquities Act of 1906 (16USC431-433).” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, www.nps.gov/history/local-law/anti1906.htm. Little, Becky. “How We Got National Monuments.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 5 Dec. 2017, www.history.com/news/how-we-got-national-monuments. Loris, Nicolas. “The Antiquated Act: Time to Repeal the Antiquities Act.” The Heritage Foundation, 25 Mar. 2015, www.heritage.org/environment/report/the-antiquated-acttime-repeal-the-antiquities-act. Meyer, Robinson. “Obama Conserved 1.3 Million Acres in Utah-Can Trump Undo That?” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 14 June 2017, www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/ 2017/06/obama-conserved-13-million-acres-in-utahcan-trump-un-conserve-them/ 530265/. Nordhaus, Hannah, and Aaron Huey. “Inside the New Battle for the American West.” National Geographic, National Geographic, 18 Oct. 2018, www.nationalgeographic.com/ magazine/2018/11/battle-for-the-american-west-bears-ears-national-monument/. Vincent, Carol Hardy. National Monuments and the Antiquities Act. Congressional Research Service , 30 Nov. 2018, fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R41330.pdf.

Bears Ears National Monument  
Bears Ears National Monument  
Advertisement