For thousands of years our tribal elders would sit down with our young children and tell them stories about our people. The stories were always the same, never a word out of place. Our children were taught life lessons that would help them transition to adulthood. Things have changed. No longer do we teach our children the old ways. Social media does that now. No longer does our youth listen to and respect our elders. No longer does our youth learn the sacred art of compromise, where the thoughts and ideas of all groups are valuable, and that all ideas should be heard and respected. Instead our politicians have taught them that it is only important to win at all costs.
This brings me to Bears Ears National Monument. It saddens my heart to see the all or nothing attitudes from everyone involved. The BENM movement has been in the works for a long time. This was discussed long ago by Conservation groups that wanted to protect the lands that we know and love. They were hesitant at first to get tribes involved, according to their minutes. After all, working with a variety of tribal sovereign governments can be tricky. When their lobbying efforts in Washington DC stalled a strategic decision was made to include the Navajo Nation, but not without concerns. This was a brilliant move on their part. For President Obama to support a National Monument the local tribes needed to be involved. Tribal governments with the help of conservation groups came together and started the Inter-tribal Coalition. Since the tribes have gotten involved they have been at the forefront of this movement. But this was never their idea. The conservationists have done a wonderful job of pushing the tribal nations to the front to speak for their cause. The fact that the President of the Navajo Nation hadn’t heard of or could even tell you where Bears Ears was located speaks volumes.
This land in San Juan County is sacred to our native people. There is no question that those sacred Native sites need protection. What most people don’t understand is that the Native American cultural sites within the monument were already protected under federal law. Inviting the world to visit these pristine areas does not protect them any better, but it will exploit them. Increasing popularity does not increase protection. This land has been used by my native brothers and sisters to gather wood, pick plants that have healing and ceremonial purposes and enrich their lives. This land at times has served as a burial ground and a place to live. This land has also been used by many local residents of San Juan County, who are good people who work hard every day to make a living. If you go there today it is a beautiful and peaceful place. It has been taken care of by all of us for the last 100 years and we will continue to do so.
Back in June of 2016, there was a councilman representing the Northwestern Band of Shoshone who officially signed the Support for Presidential Designation of the Bears Ears National Monument to Protect Cultural, Historical & Natural Resources on Federal Lands in San Juan County, UT under the Utah Tribal Leaders Association. When the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation signed a resolution supporting our tribal brothers and sisters, we did so because we are family. We will always have unconditional love and support for each other like families do. However, the councilman did not have the blessing of the tribal Council, nor did he speak on behalf of the Council. It has been increasingly difficult to continue to support Bears Ears NM because all sides, interest, and views are not being represented or heard.
The NW Band of Shoshone does not support the Bears Ears National Monument. I disagree with environmental group’s decision to utilize the tribes inside the Inter-tribal Coalition. This monument was inducted and accomplished without official consultation and significant participation of the NW Band of Shoshone. We believe this takes away the rights and freedoms of many to express their beliefs and views. This designation is not in the best interests and welfare of not only Shoshone people, but of all Utahan’s who love the land of their heritage.
There is an old saying among my people that says, “What if I told you that the left wing and the right wing all belong to the same bird.” It is my hope as a tribal leader, as a citizen of the most beautiful state on earth, and as a steward of all things given to us by the Great Spirit that we can all come together and sit down as a group and make a decision that is in the best interest of everyone.
I am currently working with other tribal leaders to help educate them to the real issues that are involved. This is not a good deal for tribes. They need to understand this. The great American lie is that all tribes are for the Bears Ears National Monument. They are not!
Darren Parry, Vice Chairman
Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation