Donald Trump’s Monumental Mistake

After visiting the original Bears Ears National Monument, I’m more convinced than ever the area deserves protection

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Anasazi ruin from the Pueblo III period in the once and (hopefully) future Bears Ears National Monument. Photo by author.
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The two buttes known as The Bears Ears. Source: Wilderness.org

An historic landscape

In the introduction to a report prepared by the five Native American tribes making up the coalition that advocated for Bears Ears National Monument, Jim Enote, director of the Aishiwi Aiwaan Museum and Heritage Center of Zuni, New Mexico described the region of southeastern Utah covered by the original monument boundaries as “an incomparable and priceless place, a place with irreplaceable cultural resources, a place called Bears Ears.” Enote continued, “It is a place many Native peoples in the Four Corners area continue to define as home, soul, and the setting for their cultivation of cultures.”

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The view from Farm House Ruin. The valley below it was used by the people living at this site to grow maze, squash, beans, and other foods. Originally included in the Bears Ears National Monument boundaries, this site was removed by President Trump’s proclamation that reduced the size of the monument by 85%. Photo taken by author.
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A land that resists settlement

The historian Paul T. Nelson has written that it’s possible to “map the Canyon Country [of southeastern Utah] according to its very ability to hinder settlements.” The boundaries of this region can be drawn by playing a game of connect the dots with the few communities started by European settlers that still remain. Nelson suggests in his book, Wrecks of Human Ambition, that we start with Price, Utah, then head “southwest through the towns of Castle Valley (Castle Dale, Ferron, Emery), continuing through Torrey and Boulder before trending west again through Escalante, Cannonville, and Tropic and then south through the present route of Highway 89 through Orderville and Kanab. From Kanab take the line southeast across the Arizona line to Page and Kayenta then back into Utah through Mexican Hat and Bluff, before turning north through Blanding, Monticello, Moab, and Green River and finally northwest to return to Price.” Within this large polygon that effectively surrounds Utah’s entire southeast quadrant, the small town of Hanksville is the only contemporary community that exists inside its lines.

A place and a consensus that’s difficult to reach

What was the northern end of Bears Ears National Monument can be accessed by driving south out of Moab, Utah. About midway between Moab and Monticello there’s a turn off into Indian Creek Canyon that will take you past a profligate example of indigenous expression known as Newspaper Rock. After a brief visit to that roadside attraction, you’ll continue toward the southern entrance into Canyonlands National Park along Indian Creek road.

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The remnants of a remote ruin in a sagebrush flat located in the extreme northern section of the original Bears Ears National Monument. Photo by author.
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Photo taken by author.

An opportunity to include Native Americans in management

In the original proclamation signed by President Obama in December of 2016, a commission was created consisting “of one elected officer each from the Hopi Nation, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah Ouray, and Zuni Tribe, designated by the officers’ respective tribes.” Though federal land managers were not required to heed the counsel of this commission, they were required to hear it, and to provide an explanation for their decision to ignore it should they opt to.

Conclusion

Donald Trump’s proclamation reduced the Bears Ears by 85% and split the monument in two, designating one of the new management areas “Shash Jaa”, the Navajo name for Bears Ears. President Obama, in the opening paragraph of his proclamation, listed several of the native names for this place: Hoon’Naqvut, Shash Jáa, Kwiyagatu Nukavachi, Ansh An Lashokdiwe.

A Short Bears Ears Photo Gallery

(All photos taken by author)

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Written by

US citizen residing in British Columbia, Canada. Degrees include anthropology and environmental studies. Activism, politics, science, nature.

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