By Glynn Wilson –
Navajo hideout Bears Ears in southern Utah will now be protected as a national monument. President Barack Obama signed the proclamation Wednesday to protect this land for future generations
“Thanks to his action, this land will be finally given the legal reverence and protection it deserves,” said Russell Begaye, President of the Navajo Nation.
“I am very proud to be both Navajo and American,” Begaye said in a statement released by the White House. “As the President of the Navajo Nation, I’ve dedicated my life to ensuring that, as a Navajo, my story — and our stories — are part of our collective American history.”
In sharing one story, he talked about a time when the Navajo nations and American nations were at war with each other, back “when the U.S. Cavalry forcibly rounded up Navajo men, women, and children, and marched them at gunpoint to a foreign land hundreds of miles away,” Begaye said. “During this time, some of my Navajo ancestors successfully hid at a sacred place of prayer, shelter, and fortitude: the Bears Ears area of Utah.”
This “beautiful” piece of land stretches for over a million acres across the southern edge of the state.
“Its ancient cliff dwellings, ceremonial sites, abundant rock art, countless cultural artifacts, winding creek beds, and expanses of desert land, contain the great history of my nation,” Begaye said. “This place served to protect my family then, just as it has protected many Native American people throughout the years.”
Begaye praised the decision and said it “reflects the President’s profound record on conservation: He has done more than any other president in history to set aside more land and water for the future.”
But it is also in accordance with his actions to elevate the voices of Native people, Begaye said. Five sovereign tribal nations petitioned to have this irreplaceable land conserved.
“Bears Ears National Monument is sacred not only to the Diné people, but also our Hopi, Ute, and Zuni neighbors,” Begaye said. “These tribes came together in an unprecedented show of unity to conserve these lands for future generations of all Americans.”
This intertribal coalition also pushed for a new standard for national monuments and tribal involvement.
“Thankfully, President Obama and his team listened to our sovereign nations,” Begaye said. “With this step to protect and conserve these irreplaceable lands, he has set a new precedent for national monument tribal collaborative management. And he has strengthened the relationship between our Navajo and American nations. As both Navajo and American, I am proud our President listened to a sovereign appeal and acted to preserve our sacred land for future generations.”
The president, using his authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act, also set aside 300,000-acres in the Mojave Desert in Nevada as the Gold Butte National Monument, marked by fossilized sand dunes and panels of petroglyphs that tower over the landscape.
While conservative private property rights advocates out west may not be happy with the decisions, there may not be much they can do about it.
President Obama said in a statement Wednesday that these designations “protect some of our country’s most important cultural treasures, including abundant rock art, archaeological sites, and lands considered sacred by Native American tribes. Today’s actions will help protect this cultural legacy and will ensure that future generations are able to enjoy and appreciate these scenic and historic landscapes.”
© 2016, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.