This past week, President Obama designated Bears Ears a national monument. Located in the desert landscapes of southeastern Utah, Obama designated this landmark as a national monument “to protect some of our country’s most important cultural treasures, including abundant rock art, archeological sites, and lands considered sacred by Native American tribes.”
The President added: “protect its cultural legacy and ensure that future generations may enjoy and appreciate these scenic and historic landscapes.”
Bears Ears is a beautiful stretch of over a million acres of land located across the southern edge of Utah. Its ancient cliff dwellings, ceremonial sites, abundant rock art, countless cultural artifacts, winding creek beds, and expanses of desert land contain great history and beauty.
But Bears Ears is so much more that a beautiful desert. Russell Begaye, the President of the Navajo Nation explains that “Bears Ears is a Navajo sacred place of prayer, shelter, and fortitude.” It is sacred to the Diné people, but also the Hopi, Ute, and Zuni, as it holds much history about the Navajo Nation.
Begaye explains that “there was a time when our nations, American and Navajo, were at war with each other, 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. During this time, some Navajo ancestors successfully hid at Bears Ears, a sacred place of prayer, shelter, and fortitude. Bears Ears served to protect my the Navajo National just as it has protected many Native American people throughout the years.”
The president’s proclamation making Bears Ears a national monument reflects not only his record on conservation of American lands, but also his deep commitment to the voices of Native Americans. Five sovereign tribal nations petitioned to have Bears Ears conserved.
Begaye states that “with this step to protect and conserve these irreplaceable lands, President Obama has set a new precedent for national monument tribal collaborative management, and he has strengthened the relationship between our Navajo and American nations.”
As we reflect on the history of America, it is with great reverence that Bears Ears is deemed a national monument, placed on par with other great vestiges of our nation’s history such as The Statute of Liberty, the World War II Monument, and George Washington’s birthplace.
To read the President’s Proclamation on Bears Ears go to: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/12/28/proclamation-establishment-bears-ears-national-monument