Thursday, February 18, 2016

To save their homeland, 25 tribes unite in the Southwest

Stephen Trimble

 Native peoples in the Southwest take the long view. They have lived in the redrock canyons of the Colorado Plateau for 12,000 years and have shown astonishing resilience in the face of devastating change in the last 500 years. Now, they bring this ancestral perspective to the management of public lands in the canyons and mesas of southern Utah.

For the first time in conservation history, the primary advocates for a new national monument are the tribes themselves. This historic Native coalition is trying to protect the wildlands that sweep southward from Canyonlands National Park toward the
Navajo Nation.

The tribes’ allies include travelers, hikers, and river-runners who don’t want to see oil rigs and endless networks of off-road vehicle tracks here. But the visitors who gaze awestruck across the buttes of Greater Canyonlands, who boat through the canyons of the San Juan River, and who stand enthralled by rock art and cliff dwellings on Cedar Mesa, may not realize how deeply all of these lands matter in the daily lives of Native people.

The tribes worked for six years with Utah congressmen to find common ground.  Native people sought joint stewardship of this landscape. In January, however, when Rep. Rob Bishop, Republican of Utah, revealed the details of a Public Lands Initiative he touted as a grand compromise, the tribes found his draft “woefully inadequate in addressing our needs in the areas of collaborative management and land preservation.”

For the Bears Ears Coalition, the unacceptable language in Bishop’s proposal confirmed the “inequitable treatment of tribes over the past three years and our need to seek other means of protecting the living cultural landscape we call Bears Ears.” The development proposals in Bishop’s Initiative have led coalition members to focus on President Obama, who could use the Antiquities Act to proclaim a Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah.

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