TOWAOC — The Ute Mountain Ute tribe expressed enthusiasm for the proposed Bears Ears National Monument at a community meeting Thursday attended by 50 Ute and Navajo tribal members.
Ute Mountain has joined the Bears Ears Inter-tribal Coalition along with the Uintah-Ouray Utes, Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni tribes to lobby for the federal action.
They are asking President Obama to declare the national monument on 1.9 million acres in southeast Utah to protect traditional Native American lands and ancient cultural sites.
Under the proposal, it would be the first national monument to be co-managed by the BLM and native tribes with current and ancestral ties to the land.
“It’s time that our concerns were heard,” said Navajo Albert Holiday. “We’ve been on the land for 500 years.”
The meeting was one of a series organized by Utah Dine Bikeyah, a non-profit group who first proposed the monument and is working to educate the public.
As home-made stew and frybread were served to the audience, 15 Utes and Navajos spoke in support of the monument, talking first in their native languages, then translating to English.
“We welcome the opportunity to have input in the decision making of public lands we still depend on,” said Mary Jane Yazzie, a Ute Mountain Ute and Dine Bikeyah boardmember. “Utes and Navajos used to not get along, but today that is not the case. Tribes are working together with the goal of protecting these lands.”
Added Ute Mountain councilman Malcom Lehi: “We’re gaining momentum and thanks to your support we are being heard at the national level.”
Navajo Mark Maryboy said attempts to form a 1.1 million acre National Conservation Area with Utah and San Juan County legislatures failed because tribes felt they had been left out of the process.
“They did not take us seriously, so we parted ways and went to the Secretary Interior to pursue a monument,” he said. “The (Utah governments) think they’ve been there forever, but it has only been 130 years. Native tribes have been here for thousands of years.”
Dine Bikeyah chairman Willie Greyeyes said there have been incidents of tickets being issued to native peoples using Utah’s federal public lands in traditional ways.
“Natural plants are our pharmacy, we use that land for healing, gathering herbs, wood cutting and for hunting,” he said.
Maryboy rejected claims that a monument would “lock out” native people.
“Our co-management plan is unprecedented and allows for Native American traditional uses and ceremonies,” he said.
The canyon country area is dominated by Cedar Mesa and the prominent Bears Ears mesas. It holds some 56,000 archeological sites, many considered sacred by regional tribes.
“There has been a lot of media attention, and President Obama may sign it, so now it is getting a lot of pushback,” Maryboy said.
He was referring to Utah lawmaker Mike Noel’s call to investigate financial ties between the Coalition and environmental groups supporting the monument.
“People ask why are we in partnership with the environmentalists? Because we have shared values,” Maryboy said.
Every summer the tribes have a spiritual gathering at the foot of Bears Ears on Cedar Mesa, and another is planned this year.
“Hundreds of teepees are put up,” said Navajo Ken Maryboy. “The tribes arrive in traditional attire by horse or by foot. We pray side by side to our deities.”
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell recently said she is planning a visit to Utah, but a date has not been set.
“We’re promoting the monument for all of us, no matter where you are from,” Lehi said. “Our ancestors are still there and have chosen us to go to D.C. so we can all share in this area.”