By Lauren McMullin
In a state full of national parks, avid climbers, hikers, bikers, and nature-lovers, the idea of desecrating local lands by creating a national monument is a hot-button topic. Last December, President Obama designated a new national monument, Bears Ears Butte, in Southeastern Utah. The Bears Ears area includes up to 2 million acres of desert landscape in southeastern Utah and has more than 100,000 archeological sites. This area includes sites such as Cedar Mesa, Valley of the Gods, and Indian Creek. The future of this beautiful land is in a tug-of-war between two opposing sides, with many Utah residents opposing the national monument.
Opposition to the Monument
Many Utah Republicans are against it, including Utah Governor Gary Herbert, who in February, signed a resolution challenging the monument, calling on President Trump to discard the national monument status from Bears Ears.
Local residents of the Bears Ears area, alongside some Navajo nation leaders, are also opposed to the national monument, due to the threats of diminishing local jobs and lands, which lands are considered sacred by local Native Americans.
In September 2016, a news conference rallying against the monument was held including speakers Rep. Chris Stewart, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Sen. Orrin Hatch, local Navajo residents, and others. Within this news conference, the local residents who oppose the proposed monument stressed their argument to the nation.
Danielle Shirley, a local resident of the area, said that her grandmother’s livelihood depended upon these sacred lands. “This is where my grandmother gathers her wood for her source of heat for the winter. This is also where she uses the area for her grazing rights and if this becomes a monument she’s going to lose that. And that’s her main source of income,” Shirley said.
Louis Singer, also a local resident, discussed all that the lands have provided for his people, including medicinal herbs, places to perform sacred ceremonies, and grazing lands. “Here and time again, the Bears Ears has provided what my people needed,” he said.
The Native American locals also consider the land sacred because it has restorative traits. Suzy Johnson, local resident, said, “This is a place of healing, a place of holiness. A therapy and a retreat for our body, mind and soul.” The viewpoint Johnson expresses of the land having restorative traits is an almost Thoreau-like ideology.
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said that native people wanted to raise their families on their own lands, to protect their families. He said that his constituents No. 1 concern was to protect their families. However, he showed that the effects of tourism could harm families livelihoods, due to the jobs that depend on the Bears Ears land.
Support for the Monument
Shortly after Governor Herbert signed the resolution challenging the monument, the Outdoor Retailer show decided to relocate away from Salt Lake City in protest to Governor Herbert challenging the monument. The Outdoor Retailer show is the biggest trade show and houses top brands such as Patagonia, The North Face, and REI. In the past 20 years, the trade show has attracted about 50,000 people and brings in around $45 million a year to Salt Lake City.
Patagonia in particular has launched a media campaign through a series of 360-degree films in order to inform the public about the positive effects of the monument. In a video sponsored by Patagonia, “Defined by the Line,” Josh Ewing, a climber who lives locally, shares the potential threats of leaving the land unprotected. The effects he lists in the video include potential oil drilling, looting, and visitors showing no regard to archeology. Ewing also points out the fact that there are also Native American groups within the Friends of Cedar Mesa, who want the area to become a national monument. “Just loving a place isn’t enough, you have to have a willingness to protect it,” Ewing said.
Currently, Bears Ears is a national monument, although in the future it could be subject to change. As a frequent visitor and avid hiker of national parks, I am torn. The dilemma is between the needs of people in the present (the local residents who rely on the land for their livelihood), or the preservation of the lands for the people of the future. I am inclined to believe that the preservation of the land through creating a national monument is the best to protect the Bears Ears area. Yes, the Navajo residents who rely on the land for jobs would be affected. Yes, the sacredness of the land would be spoiled by tourists. However, consider the long term effects of preserving the lands as a national monument. Without the rules enforced by a national monument, years from now these precious lands will have felt the impact of human erosion. Americans in the future will thank us for the preservation of the Bears Ears land, and the indubitably positive impact will be felt for years onwards if a national monument is created.
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