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)

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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.

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).

San Juan residents talk back: Eastern Lands Bill comments

In order to better understand the land issues in the film, we need to see the current events concerning the land today. Because it was originally in the hands of the Navajo, other outside entities have contested claims to these lands, rightfully or wrongly, but they often neglect the voice of the indigenous peoples who live there despite outsiders’ own claims.

Here is a document that shares some local points of view about the proposed San Juan County wilderness areas and various perspectives on it. There is a media sharing happening now with all the documents floating around the internet concerning the Eastern Lands Bill and the stakeholders associated with it. What is interesting about it is the pointed and biased views of the Navajo people from locals, an obvious prejudicial tendency to stereotype Navajos as trying to take “their” lands away from them. For more information on the overt dislike for Navajos voicing their opinion, click “The Petroglyph”, a local news media outlet  for residents of San Juan County: http://thepetroglyph.com/dine-bikeyah-sells-their-traditional-life-style-for-say-in-bishops-land-bill/ Obviously, there are a number of things wrong with their arguments, not the least of which is the Manifest Destiny claim against Navajos. Evidently, the author doesn’t know the meaning and origin of the word.

Most notably, the commission meetings are held in the town areas away from the borders of the Navajo Nation, some of those lands which are in San Juan County, leaving the voice of the local Utah Navajos out. Many of those local Navajos there do not have transportation are elders, don’t speak English, or are able to be fully informed of the current events intended for these meetings.

Commission Meeting:

October 22nd Monticello Utah– 7:00 PM at the Monticello High School

October 23rd Blanding Utah – 7:00 PM at the Blanding High School

October 24th Bluff Utah – 7:00 PM at the Bluff Community Center 

For more information about the scheduled meetings for the discussion about the land issues that leave out consideration for Navajo input: http://thepetroglyph.com/san-juan-county-lands-bill-open-houses/

As you can see, there is not as much consideration for the Navajo population in San Juan County to meet them where they live at and build more meaningful and positive relationships with Non-Navajos as one would hope. The least SJ residents, leaders, politicians, and community representatives could do is hold a meeting in Mexican Hat, Monument Valley, or Montezuma Creek. These are closer towns to the Navajo Nation and their chapters. Incidents of not extending the services of San Juan County to Navajos and not just Non-Navajos have been rising in recent years. Some would call that discrimination. If want to see the full schedule of proposed meetings, access here:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/179509421/San-Juan-County-Lands-BIll-Survey

Please take the time to look some of these comments over and see that there are many sides to the issue but just because residents feel strongly about their local residency doesn’t mean Navajos feel any less strongly. Arguably, they feel more connected and responsible for the lands here because we were already here before the settler-colonial expansion into the West, not more than a couple hundred years ago by them, lest they forget.CITIZENS SAY NO TO BISHOP’S LANDS BILL

This is the land area that everyone is talking about either making a wilderness conservation area, a free-for-all for business and tourism, or a balance between both.

For more information about the current events for the land dispute occurring in San Juan County, access the documents at this link: http://www.scribd.com/doc/183792272/San-Juan-Alliance-Proposal-for-Bishops-lands-bill

While I don’t agree nor condone most of the views from this electronic press outlet, I do think alternative views are in order to see what other perspectives are out there: http://thepetroglyph.com

I believe if one reads their articles, people can ascertain for themselves whether or not they want to invest their time and energy into a publication that is slanted against Navajos and conservationists while endorsing Republicans and Mormons. Regardless, it is helpful for residents, Navajo and Non-Navajo, to educate themselves about what is going on in their backyard.

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The Navajo Times Online

This is a fantastic source of news and information about the latest and greatest on the internet with the events and news of the Navajo Nation. Of course, not all the news makes the online edition alternate sources are good for local and regional news. For instance, “Into America: The Ancestor’s Land” made The Navajo Times but only in the printed edition of last week’s paper. Regardless, this is a widely recognized fixture of Navajo life reporting the news around the nation to any place of business that will distribute it. Be sure to stay current on news, land issues, politics, and possible film showings through the online link. Thank you!

American Indian Film Festival introduction of film to audience

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This short clip is from the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco, California on Nov. 5th, 2013. It is the introduction to the documentary film “Into America: The Ancestor’s Land”, a collaboration between Nadine Zacharias and Angelo Baca.

Barre Toelken and Academics

Barre Toelken, an American folklorist at Utah State University, has done lengthy research on American and Native American folklore. His academic publishing and research in this field is widely recognized and accomplished. What many do not know is that Barre is also an old family friend of the Yellowman family who have helped him develop his approaches to folklore and the Navajo worldview. Some of Barre’s own life story can be found here.

In this documentary, he talks about his experience and first interactions with the Navajo in Northern Utah. He speaks of his early prospecting days before he become a scholar in which he became lost only to be found by a Navajo family who took him in. This early relationship developed closely with the family over decades demonstrates a different and holistic human approach to how and why academics should be culturally sensitive and adaptable to the needs and requests of the indigenous communities collaborating with scholars. This is also recognized among his peers and colleagues as written in this blog.

His books and works are numerous but among the most notable are:

Some of his writing and publications can be found online as well:

“Beauty Behind Me, Beauty Before Me”

“The Yellowman Tapes, 1966-1997”

“The Heritage Arts Imperative”

Barre is an example of someone who is not native or Navajo but did his best to work and collaborate on equal grounds with the Navajo families and communities he connected with. He has made a great contribution to our story by being a part of it: witnessing the outsiders coming in and exploiting the land for mining and oil, testifying to the removal of the Yellowmans from their homes and having firsthand knowledge of their relative Little Wagon, who was first asked to concede those lands. In addition, he was pressured by folklorists, historians, institutions, and archivists to keep the culturally sensitive data of his Navajo folklore research and ultimately decided to give them back to the family it belongs to. His approach is something that all scholars, academics, and researchers can learn from.

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American Indian Film Festival Meet-up Nov. 5th Noon Delancey Theatre

Hello All,

Angelo Baca, who is in the film with his grandmother, Helen Yellowman, will be at the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco, California at the premiere of the November 5, 2013 screening at noon at the Delancey Street Theatre. He will be present to talk about the film, Question and Answer session about the film, and talk about the issues relevant to the film, and the process of the film’s development over the last few years.

We thank the American Indian Film Festival, the nation’s longest running and most prestigious Native American film institution, and all those involved for making this film screening possible and for the opportunity to be present and interact with the audience and the film festival programmers, hopefully even to some distributors! It is truly a unique and wonderful film festival for American Indians with a fantastic selection of indigenous stories and storytellers. Thank you!

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Contact Angelo Baca: angelo_baca@brown.edu

Behind the Story

Helen Yellowman, a Navajo elder who does not speak English, and her grandson, Angelo Baca, are the two main characters in this journey film about two Native American people who are traveling across the western United States from Seattle to Navajo country.

Angelo travels back and forth from the University of Washington in Seattle to his home in the Four Corners, the American Southwest, where the edge of the Navajo Nation Reservation and the borders of the four states meet. It is here where Helen lives and has always lived with her family and tribal community, a traditional Navajo woman and elder.

When she decides that she is going back home, he must take her back on this long ride home but it is, for the two of them, a shared experience of two Navajo travelers, young and old, who are blood relatives who take the time to talk, share, tell stories, and relate to the past, present, and future of their family, tribe, land, and country. As they travel, they encounter the traditional lands and territories of the indigenous places and people never forgetting the recent historical traumas and past injustices, echoes of the effects of colonization, assimilation, and acculturation of Western expansion into Indian Country.

She traces back to the old days of when outsiders first came to her country and lands. How she was pushed out by oil companies, uranium miners, community members, and local Mormons to live somewhere else and forced to be a refugee in her own lands. The original land where she lived is now a hotly contested area in the southwest region of Utah state and San Juan County, a place called Montezuma Creek, with various entities vying for resource control.

The film is about making choices in today’s modern and contemporary world about who you are, where you come from, what your place and destiny in the world is, and about returning back to the place that you call “home”. This film is more than about walking in two world but traveling between them, often as much as one can while not forgetting who they are or where they come from. A young Navajo who struggles to maintain his connection with his culture, language, tradition, and family. An elder who has seen the better part of century of changes, independent and traditional in every way. Ultimately, her story is the story of every native community who have endured similar experiences but her hope is still strong that one day, her children and herself can return to the place they have always known as home.

ANETH OIL FIELDS OF UTAH

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Click on this image (above) to learn more about the contentious history of the Aneth Oil Fields of Utah

At the same time that the uranium industry in Monument Valley was booming, a second industry, oil, became increasingly prominent in the Aneth-Montezuma Creek area. Starting in 1953, Humble Oil and Shell Oil initiated agreements with the Navajo Tribe and the State of Utah to exploit the rich petroleum reserves locked beneath the Aneth lands. The Texas Company drilled its first well on 16 February 1956 and welcomed a rapid flow of 1,704 barrels per day. Other companies responded immediately; suddenly the tribe found itself administering leases and rentals throughout the northern part of the reservation, known generally as the Four Corners Oil Field.

San Juan County, the Southeastern region of Utah state, is the highly contested land area (The Ancestor's Land) focused upon in this film.

San Juan County, the Southeastern region of Utah state, is the highly contested land area (The Ancestor’s Land) focused upon in this film.

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