A coalition of Native American tribes is mobilizing against an impending federal initiative to seize 1.9 million acres of land in southeast Utah.
The remote corner of Utah, where the Colorado and San Juan rivers barrel through deep gorges past steep cliffs, may soon be designated a national monument by President Barack Obama.
The Antiquities Act empowers the president to designate national monuments from public lands. Obama has used this authority liberally, assigning over 265 million acres of public land with the monument designation during his tenure. Last month, he designated a massive swath of northern Maine’s forests the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. (RELATED: A Massive Swath Of Maine Just Became Federal Land)
Local Native American tribes have longstanding economic and spiritual ties to the land — which they refer to as Bear Ears — and are wary of federal encroachment onto their ancestral land.
“Our people have used the land for generations,” Marie Holliday of the Najavo tribe told the Daily Signal. “With my grandmother before she died, we would go across the San Juan River to graze [livestock]. In the fall, people start to go out there to get firewood to heat their homes for winter. We use the herbal plants that grow there to heal sickness. A lot of our ancestral ruins are buried there. It really is a beautiful place.”
Supporters of the move argue a monument will protect the land from economic development, though most of San Juan county is undeveloped. Some parts of the country are so remote that they are functionally inaccessible by modern infrastructure.
Obama himself has energetically used his Antiquities Act authority. He has designated approximately 265 million acres of land as national monuments, considerably more than his recent predecessors.
“I hope our people can still enjoy Bear Ears,” Holiday said. “But I fear with a monument, there will be more restrictions, and we won’t have that opportunity, especially our Indian people, our Navajo people. We are always being cut off somewhere, and we don’t really trust the federal government.”
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