Today President Obama designated the Bears Ears, an important cultural and spiritual site for Native peoples in Utah, a U.S. national monument. This was an important step in preserving this land and its indigenous ancestral ruins for future generations. This victory was the result of tireless work from a range of actors. Some were Native environmentalists and organizers. Others were students and residences wanting to preserve the lands where they grew up. And finally non-Native allies who valued the history of the land and its cultural sites provided invaluable work.
But there are still challenges in preserving the land and gaining Native control over it. First, the monument size was much smaller than what advocates had wanted. Second, the incoming Trump administration might attempt to roll back these designations. Finally, we are unsure on what kind of influence tribe’s will have over the park. These are serious considerations.
In Jacqueline Keeler’s forthcoming edited volume, “Edge of Morning: Native Voices Speak for the Bears Ears,” Native activists, academics, and organizers consider the meaning of Bears Ears for Native people. Writing from the standpoint of a researcher in the Navajo Nation, I contributed a small essay on how national monuments can assist tribal land claims. The book is a timely and resourceful account on Bears Ears and the campaign to designate it a national monument. It will be available in the spring of 2017 from Torey House Press.