Indigenous leaders react to restoration of Bears Ears’ boundaries

Oct 8, 2021, 8:05 PM | Updated: 9:42 pm
bears ears boundaries restored...
(The view from the cliffs near Moki Dugway, where tribal leaders held a celebration for the Bears Ears restoration. Photo: Paul Nelson)
(The view from the cliffs near Moki Dugway, where tribal leaders held a celebration for the Bears Ears restoration. Photo: Paul Nelson)

SAN JUAN COUNTY, Utah — Tears of joy, prayers and sacred songs… all part of how tribal leaders in southern Utah reacted at President Joe Biden’s restoration of the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument.

When President Biden made his declaration official, the leadership of Utah Diné Bikéyah huddled around one man who played the president’s live speech over speakerphone.  They cheered after hearing the restoration of three national monuments. They then embraced each other in celebration.  Board Founder Kenneth Maryboy says tears came to his eyes.

(People embracing after President Biden’s announcement. Photo: Paul Nelson)

“I prayed for the longest time, thanking the holy people that we’re going to preserve the beautiful land of Bears Ears.”

Bears Ears restoration: Sacred land

Maryboy says every part of the land is sacred to them.  The carvings tell their history while they frequently use the herbs for medicinal purposes.

President Biden stated that Bears Ears was the first national monument to be made at the request of Native American tribes.  Diné Bikéyah board member Mary Benally says they were thrilled in 2016 when President Obama put it under BLM protection.

She said, “Everything in that proclamation is exactly what we asked for, and we want to keep it as such.”

Honored and protected

Benally says every tribe of the Colorado Basin area has traveled through the land, and their requests on how it should be protected should be honored.  She says they want to avoid the kind of pollution that has happened in other developed areas.

 “It’s a small piece of land and we don’t want any development, we don’t want any mining and we don’t want any kind of construction,” said Benally.

Sacred songs and a blessing

(Tribal officials leading others in song before they blessed the area. Photo: Paul Nelson)

After the announcement, tribal leaders sang sacred songs. They also placed a blessing on an area near Moki Dugway, which is near Bears Ears.  Celebrating with them was Bruce Babbitt, the man who served as Secretary of the Interior when President Clinton established the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  He’s extremely happy to see both Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante restored to their original boundaries.

Babbitt said, “The people who have been here for centuries are back on the land.”

He also says he never believed President Trump’s reduction of the monuments would last long after his presidency.

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Indigenous leaders react to restoration of Bears Ears’ boundaries