Resentment over former President Barack Obama’s executive order declaring Bears Ears a national monument has caused conflict between locals and Native Americans.
The federal public land is located in San Juan County in southern Utah and protects 1,351,849 acres of public land surrounding the Bear Ears. Local resistance has caused tension against imposing more protections to public land, which would restrict future development and mining.
The Trump administration has launched a review over the large national monument concerning whether it should be rescinded or scaled back. Some locals in Blanding, Utah, have come out and suggested a compromise by shrinking the monument to just protect the cliff dwellings and antiquities instead of imposing restrictions on the surrounding area affecting Blanding residents.
Gloria Rivera, an Apache Native American who is an academic advisor at Salt Lake Community College, has weighed in on the discussion of compromise.
“It’s irrelevant what residents think because as Native Americans, it’s rightfully our land,” she says. “Shrinking the monument is basically taking the last connections they have to connect to our history and ancestors, and the minute white people start taking more and more, they keep going and going. We will have nothing.”
Rivera points out that this is similar to current policies the government has been accused of abusing to secure land without proper due diligence.
“That’s how eminent domain started; the white people started out on the east coast and then they decided they would just take a little more land and then a little more,” she says. “White people displaced the Indians from Florida and put them in Oklahoma. They had no right to do that, but once you open the door to eminent domain, it becomes a travesty.”
The Antiquities Act is something that Rivera supports as a way to protect land from development and preserve it for indigenous people.
“Bears Ears monument is protected by the Antiquities Act, and our people, from whatever tribe they are, worship on these lands and pray in these lands, and that’s why it should be protected,” she says.
Those in favor of protecting Bears Ears and surrounding areas from oil and gas development believe that it will protect Native Americans artifacts, antiquities, ruins, and shrines from negative environmental impact.