Bears Ears: Don’t dismantle the sacred spirit of the land

Thursday, July 26, 2018 6:33 PM
Jonah Yellowman
Pastor Richard Silversmith

On Dec. 4, 2017, President Donald Trump traveled to Utah to announce his attempt to undo the Bears Ears National Monument. His actions shrink the size of the protected landscape and reduce the level of protection for the cultural artifacts, lands and waters it holds. Whether his action was illegal will be determined in court. But Trump’s action also has significant spiritual consequences.

It is the belief of indigenous people here in the Southwest that the land within the Bears Ears National Monument was made by the Creator and consecrated to spiritual sojourners since the ancient Ones roamed the area.

The land itself should be honored today, just like it was in the beginning of time. The area is considered sacred, like a church sanctuary. It is said that to go on that land, you must make an offering and enter in reverence. This offering is an important step in the Navajo worldview to build a reciprocal connection with nature, since natural laws of plant, animal, water and other life forms are acknowledged and used in a sustainable manner. Offerings largely depend on a healer’s purpose and intent when visiting a sacred place like Bears Ears.

As humans who have collectively abused the land, we know it needs to be healed. The scar on Mother Earth, so to speak, is going to sit there bleeding. In order to heal that wound, we need to unify as different races, and as people – African, Latino, Anglo and Asian people – we all need to come back and put our minds together to heal the land. Specific lands of importance include places where people made offerings in the form of prayers, songs and rituals, and these lands must be protected. With these holy places in the Bears Ears Monument region, we cannot be fighting over land or we are going to hurt the plants and animals there, thus hurting ourselves and future generations. We might even hurt each other. If we do that, they will be bleeding; there will be a scar there. What we are trying to heal now is the wound that is there from past mining activities and ongoing looting.

If Bears Ears continues to get developed for its minerals, logged or looted, we’re going to open up something that we may not recover from.

Protecting is a word we use a lot. But do we really understand it? If we protect the lands and waters for us, the human race, there are big spiritual benefits that ensure the safety of humanity, Mother Earth and Father Sky.

When it comes to Bears Ears, it is our and the rest of our peers’ goal to protect it from being damaged. If we argue over Bears Ears, we are not healing it. Instead, we are doing more damage and leaving more scars.

The Creator holds a broad understanding of a natural order that humans see only in parts. Indigenous communities have been studying the work of the Creator in this place since time immemorial. If you don’t know what sacred balance is being altered, you could bring sickness to people, animals, air or water.

You never know how we might someday need the healing and protection the Creator has given us. As indigenous peoples around the world, we have native songs, prayers and ceremonies. Our songs are protection songs. If we lose the songs of our culture and the songs of creation, we will have nothing; we won’t have a shield. Our shield is Bears Ears, where most of our prayers are sent and issued to protect ourselves and the rest of the world.

When people look at Bears Ears, we should better understand Native people and what knowledge we hold. We are a living reflection of the Creator’s work and we strive to walk in beauty.

Jonah Yellowman is Diné, and a spiritual advisor for Utah Diné Bikéyah. Richard Silversmith is a pastor at the Christian Indian Center in Denver.