Tribes unveil proposal for Bears Ears designation: The fight to protect our land continues

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Bears Ears Buttes: A sacred place for Native Americans, including Navajo (photo by Tim Peterson)

The following story gives the latest on the developments of the Bears Ears National Monument proposal which was brought to you earlier on this year. It is the forefront of concern for Utah residents because of the issues of land and access, especially among Native Americans and their sacred sites, in order to protect them from exploitation and damage. It is our responsibility to protect, steward, and manage these places that have been there before America was a country and others came in with their imposition of ideas about management and conservation. Now, in order to protect the same Utah homelands we all share, we need to work together, both Native and non-Native peoples, and make this proposal a reality because if we don’t take care of it, no one else will. It is also the sacred birthplace of our famed Navajo leader, Chief Manuelito, who lead us through hard times during the Long Walk and back to freedom as one of many leaders who signed the Treaty of 1868. As another famous Navajo leader, Barboncito, once said, “I hope to God you will not ask me to go anywhere except my own country.” 

NATIONAL MONUMENTS:

Tribes unveil proposal for Bears Ears designation

Dylan Brown, E&E reporter

Published: Thursday, October 15, 2015

Native American leaders from five Southwest tribes today announced their proposal for a national monument designation, a plan they released with prayers.

In their own languages and in English, the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition urged President Obama to use the 1906 Antiquities Act to designate 1.9 million acres of federal lands in southwestern Utah as the Bears Ears National Monument.

But prayers have to be walked, not just talked, Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk said.

“We are who we are because of our ancestors, because of the prayers, because of all that the land provides for us,” said Lopez-Whiteskunk, a council member for Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, one of the tribes in the coalition along with the Navajo, Hopi, Ute Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, and Zuni Pueblo.

The group debuted its proposal at the National Press Club today in Washington, D.C., as promised during a meeting with Obama administration officials in July.

Bears Ears Proposal Plan

Bears Ears Proposal Plan

Coalition Co-chairman Eric Descheenie, special adviser to Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, called the proposal “unprecedented,” arguing the spiritual connection to the plateaus and surrounding deserts of Bear Ears cannot be overstated.

Citing an “indigenous truth” not always heard on Capitol Hill, Descheenie emphasized the healing power of the land that has sustained tribal peoples since time immemorial and described the area as irreplaceable territory under siege from looters, collectors, energy development and off-road vehicles.

“All of these unfortunate acts, terrible acts, whether intentional or not, are devastating to our ability to heal,” Descheenie said.

Descheenie said the coalition was formed as the tribes’ response to being largely ignored during the Utah Public Lands Initiative (Greenwire, Aug. 21). The initiative is a legislative effort spearheaded by Utah Republican Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz to once and for all divvy up about 18 million federal acres in Utah for wilderness protection, recreation and energy development (Greenwire, Aug. 6).

Obama has not ruled out using his power to designate national monuments for a 19th time for Bears Ears, a power roundly criticized by many Republicans (E&ENews PM, Aug. 3).

The coalition dropped off its proposal at the offices of Bishop and Chaffetz today, and Descheenie said the tribes will continue working with the initiative, offering a “second chance” to be heard, as required by their unique relationship with the federal government.

“We are not stakeholders,” Descheenie said.

“We’ve been saying it loudly for a very long time, and we’re still here,” Descheenie said. “And we’re not going to stop at protecting our ability to heal. We want to be happy people just as much as anybody else, and this is the conversation that is not happening.”

In a joint statement, Bishop and Chaffetz, along with Utah Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, acknowledged the coalition as “an important stakeholder in the Public Lands Initiative.”

“While many Native Americans who live in Utah oppose the Coalition’s proposal, we welcome the input and recommendations nonetheless,” they said. “Our offices have now received over 65 detailed proposals from various stakeholder groups regarding land management in eastern Utah. We remain committed to reviewing each proposal and producing a final PLI bill that is balanced and broadly supported.”

Some Navajo in Utah, including San Juan County Commissioner Rebecca Benally, oppose the monument, arguing it cuts off access for traditional religious ceremonies, gathering of medicinal herbs, wood harvesting and hunting.

With a petition signed by 300 Utah Navajos, Benally also evoked the spiritual connection to the land in lobbying for parts of the area to be designated as a national conservation area, which would permit energy development elsewhere.

“We can preserve a lot of things without making it a monument,” Utah Navajo Marie Holliday said in a statement provided by Benally, adding, “The people behind the tribal coalition are doing what’s best for themselves, not what’s best for the Utah Navajo people.”

Willie Grayeyes, chairman of the Utah Diné Bikéyah, said the tribes are far from split, noting the support pledged by 25 governments in the Four Corners states of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, as well as the National Congress of American Indians.

Mountains in the proposed national park area.

Mountains in the proposed national park area. (photo by Tim Peterson)

Navajos in Utah want protection for ancestral lands: “Dine Bikeyah” Land Proposal

The proposal for a national conservation area would preserve Cedar Mesa and adjacent areas that are filled with some of America’s oldest archaeological treasures that need urgent protection, also known as the “Dine Bikeyah” land proposal, is fast becoming a large issue for the state of Utah, federal agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management, and local entities such as San Juan County. Watch the video now to hear from Utah Navajo themselves how important this land is and go beyond “Into America” and get additional perspectives from the people in their own words.

Lost in Translation: Germany’s Fascination with Native Americans.

The recent public attention in the New York Times about the Karl May Museum and how the German fascination of Native Americans is still strong today throws the spotlight on the museum, which also has a festival, that claims to “honor” Native Americans. Now, the controversy is about human scalps that were on display at the museum itself but have since been removed. The museum is now working harder than ever to keep and maintain good relations with Native Americans themselves while displaying artifacts by talking and negotiating how to implement best practices together. Please clink on link for entire story.

Lost in Translation: by New York Times (August 17, 2014)

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Visual representation of one of Karl May’s most popular imagined Indian character creations: “Winnetou”

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The imagined ideas of Germans and Indians fighting side by side with each other as portrayed by the fictional character: “Old Shatterhand”

In the film “Into America: The Ancestor’s Land“, we address the American fascination of Indians and Westerns and how Hollywood is known the world-over for its famous landscapes and indigenous peoples, including Germany. However, Karl May is a popular writer of Germany who claimed to live with and know Native Americans (which is disputed as well according to the media piece here), and his ideas, fantasies, and stereotypes of Indigenous peoples in the United States still live on. It is the cooperative nature and equal partnership of representation that we hoped to achieve in making the film in order to get away from such stereotypes including cultural misappropriation and incorrect representation.

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The outside of the Karl May Museum in Germany that houses numerous collections of American Indian materials.

Picture from Karl May Museum of scenes of believed American Indian life

Picture from Karl May Museum depicting scenes of believed American Indian life.

Native Americans in the United States are confident that the museum will do the right thing, as they are committed to doing by partnering with tribes and their representatives, and let us consult with them to view collections of numerous artifacts and objects in the museum’s possession to assist in determining their origins, cultural significance, any funerary items and/or human remains. It is one of the best ways to honor Indian people.

New Fight brought to Utah Lands Issues using “racist” methods?

San Juan County showdown slated for Saturday at Recapture Canyon

(click to see story)

There is a new fight that is brewing against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the residents of Utah, namely in the small town of Blanding. While it might be understandable the frustration they are feeling because of the ineptitude of the BLM and its disorganized and seemingly arbitrary delineations of land demarcations, they do still have a job and they need to be accountable for doing it. Thus, the backlash against the federal government is beginning to culminate in the local White Mormon residents of Utah vs. the BLM, especially in the wake of the FBI raids of 2009 when they claimed that the alleged law-breakers were arrested with excessive force using “overkill” force by the feds.

Billboard upon entering Blanding, Utah: both Indians and artifacts

Billboard upon entering Blanding, Utah: both Indians and artifacts

As stated by MotherJones.com: “This Saturday, angry residents of San Juan County, Utah, plan to illegally ride their ATVs through Utah’s Recapture Canyon—an 11 mile-long stretch of federal land that is home to Native American archeological sites—because they don’t think that the federal Bureau of Land Management should have designated that land off-limits to motor vehicles. The protest was meant to be a local affair. But on Thursday, Bundy, the rancher who wouldn’t pay the feds grazing fees and sparked a gun-drenched showdown in Nevada, called on his supporters to join the anti-government off-roading event, E&E Publishing’s Phil Taylor reported. Bundy, whose crusade against the federal government became tainted by his racist comments, is looking to spread the cause from cattle to cross-country cruising.”

All Terrain Vehicles (ATV’s) can do damage on trails with fragile ecosystems and irreplaceable archaeological sites of indigenous ancestors which are all over San Juan County

This time, the BLM is the target for this same demographic and is supported by the son of Cliven Bundy of Nevada who is recently become somewhat popular among staunch Republicans as a poster boy for American land-owners against the BLM but is also…a recorded racist in talking about African-Americans. Apparently, these same people have forgotten that it is not a question about them owning the land or the government land because it is not their land: it is Native American land.

Cliven Bundy

Cliven Bundy of Nevada

Let me restate that so it sinks in: If this is a question about being an American with freedoms and rights to own land without as much government interference or regulation, then you couldn’t be more spot on when talking about Native American communities, everywhere, including there in Utah, who have had to deal with not just the government but the settler-colonial agents of Westward Expansion and Manifest Destiny since the beginning of this Western imposed nation-state you call America. This argument does not include Indians because we are older than America and preclude these “rights” that were written for a similar crowd at the time of the Constitution (white land owners who were business man and developers). Whose land is this? This is Indian land. It has always been our land. It will always be our land. We are not going anywhere. We will not leave. This is our home. The sooner both ranchers like Bundy or San Juan citizens like Phil Lyman can get that, the more they can get to the root of the problem: Land issues.

Phil Lyman, San Juan County Commissioner leading ATV protest

Phil Lyman, San Juan County Commissioner leading ATV protest

Could it be that they are so desperate to talk about land issues that they are willing to use racists and their sons as symbols of their fight? Or is that just a natural inclination of San Juan citizens according to the treatment of American Indians in the local area in a number of cases (i.e. disrespectfully selling and collecting Native American artifacts in 2009, attempting to defy the Antiquities Act and Eastern Lands Bill for land use open to everyone by Congressman Bishop in 2013, etc.) Even Bundy’s argument misses the mark because there were the Dann Sisters, of the Western Shoshone tribe, who tried to fight for their land and their ranch but were not as publicly recognized or given as much attention about their land issues as Bundy seems to be getting now. Maybe its because the sisters didn’t say anything racist. I don’t know.

Western Shoshone sisters of Nevada

Western Shoshone Dann sisters of Nevada

Utah officials and citizens are hiding behind their “rights” as American citizens that they pretend to respect but are willing to literally tread upon their own government for their own benefits. In addition, they disrespect the local Native American populations as well by not listening, respecting, or leaving the artifacts that are not supposed to be collected alone. They are willing to destroy ancient archaeological artifacts and sites that are supposed to be protected, preserved, and acknowledged as spaces that should be respected. In this day and age, with both Native and non-Native peoples sharing a community and land, there is no excuse for this kind of ignorance mixed with privilege and power from a powerful group “asserting” its “rights” over another marginalized group. It is appalling to me the conduct of a supposedly Mormon town towards their own nation and other sovereign indigenous nations that live there in the area such as the White Mesa Paiute, Ute Mountain Tribe, and the Navajo. Do these Blanding citizens have no other way to show their protest than to destroy the place that they love by riding ATV’s over it and not including Native American perspectives in this conversation?

 

Ancient indigenous archaeological sites

Ancient indigenous archaeological sites of San Juan County

Yale University Screening of “Into America” on April 1, 2014

 

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It was a gorgeous and sunny day at New Haven, Connecticut just after a snowy day had dusted the campus early the previous morning. We were able to tour the campus and the Native American Cultural Center at Yale with all the interesting and deep history of the place and the town.

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Thank you to the Native American Cultural Center and all the native students who came to support the film screening and the lecture by Brown University faculty! We want to especially thank Tyler and his organizing efforts and thinking of us to bring us here. All the students and faculty were amazing and very warm and made us feel comfortable with their welcome song by the Blue Feather Drum Group.

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Thanks to all who were able to come and make the trip to see us, feeding us with a great dinner, and asking great questions about the film!

This event was sponsored by:

The Indigenous Graduate Network,

Native American Cultural Center,

Yale Group for the Study of Native America,

Ethnicity, Race, and Migration

American Students

Native American Law Students Association

Association of Native Americans at Yale

Yale American Indian Science & Engineering Society

Yale Native American Arts Council

Blue Feather Drum Group

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Antioch University Film Screening in Seattle, Washington on March 22, 2014

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The screening for the Contemporary Social Issues series at Antioch University in Seattle, Washington on March 22, 2014 was a great success. Helen Yellowman and Angelo Baca presented the film and fielded questions after the film. Regrettably, director Nadine Zacharias was not able to attend via Skype as we strive to present and represent the film as accurately and correctly as possible as a shared project. However, she was busy with the YoungDok presentation in Germany and we also anticipate some great photos from that event sometime in the near future. I think that coordinating these things are challenging since Germany is so far away and the time difference is great but we do what we can!

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Helen Yellowman speaking to the crowd at Antioch University on March 22, 2014

The best part of the experience was sitting down with people after the screening and talking with them one-on-one with the audience after the event was over at a nearby cafe. It was good to take the time to know the people who came and speak with them in a more traditional Navajo way, especially with the presence of my grandmother who wanted to know who they all were. She did a beautiful job of visiting and talking as everyone there was very respectful listening and introducing themselves to her. Her presence reminded us all of the unity of family and how she so easily becomes everyone’s grandmother with everyone around her becoming her grandchildren. My admiration and awe grows each time I witness adults and young people alike become children right before our eyes near her.

Speaking with Shimasuni (grandmother) Helen Yellowman at dinner

Speaking with Shimasani (grandmother) Helen Yellowman at dinner

I want to thank Native Gathering Students at Antioch University in Seattle and Susan for organizing at Antioch University for doing a great job of putting the event on, being welcoming and warm hosts, and putting the word out to the community for the screening while getting us a nice space and providing food, even traditional blue corn mush! Thank you very much for all your hard work and “it is well” (ya’at’eeh).

“Standing on Sacred Ground” Film Series at Wesleyan University

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March 1 & 2 at Wesleyan University featured the “Standing on Sacred Ground” Film Series with director Christopher “Toby” McLeod (featured at the far left) who has been doing this project since the early 1990’s now sharing his films with the world by touring, screening, and conversing with various audiences. Filmmaker Angelo Baca was invited to participate on the panel commentating on the film and talking with the audiences during Q & A. Of course, we mentioned “Into America” as another film associated with indigenous peoples fighting for and trying to protect our traditional lands. This film series goes around the globe from the indigenous peoples of Papua New Guinea fighting to protect their waters to the tar sands of Alberta, from Russian shamans protecting their lands to the Winnemem Wintu fighting a dam project by the government, to Native Peruvians trying to keep their foods alive in the face of climate change and the Ethiopian tribal peoples attempting to keep their traditional ways and lands, to Aboriginal Australians and Native Hawaiians reclaiming traditional land and resisting the government and the military.

He is also known for his highly acclaimed film “In the Light of Reverence” also dealing with sacred site protection but specifically in the United States. Christopher traveled to many native communities and was willing to share his experiences with the audiences at Wesleyan and the panel of academics, traditional native people, and other filmmakers. It was an honor to participate with a great group of people on an excellent project. Now, more than ever, is the time for all of humanity to unite against the destruction of our sacred places, the natural world, and indigenous communities.

The discussions from the panel was fantastic and ranged on many topics from traditional native views, teachings, and culture of the land to academic perspectives of theory, philosophy, and modernity. The wide experiences and background made for interesting and rich conversation which included great input and feedback from the audience with their questions and comments. Our hosts were gracious, generous, and welcoming.

We want to thank the Wesleyan Film Studies Department, Department of Religion, Department of Anthropology, and everyone else who put this together whom I am sure are far too many to mention, including Toby and his supporters who helped fund his project and see it to fruition. Keep watch out for the film series as it will be shown on PBS some time in the near future.

 www.http://standingonsacredground.org/            www.http://www.sacredland.org/home/films/in-production/

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Utah Unlikely to “take back” federal lands

This is a fantastic editorial piece out of the Deseret News from Robert Bennett, a former US Senator from Utah, about the need to leave federal lands alone in which “the original owners were Utes and Navajos”. Notice it was published a few days ago, but the words and brief history he gives from an experienced perspective are valuable to the general public but also those of us who are attempting to retain our rightful claim to our lands, culture, history, and traditional sacred places that need protecting in the face of governmental, capitalist ventures, and natural resource exploitation. It is nice to see a reasoned and logical argument from another perspective than our own; we need allies to help us secure our traditional lands and keep them from being desecrated or otherwise wrongfully appropriated.