Story and gallery by TANNER FAUST
After President Trump cut the size of Bears Ears National Monument by nearly 1 million acres, activists feared that was the beginning of the end for protected land in Utah. The monument’s size has been reduced from 1.35 million acres to 200,000 acres.
“This reduction in size poses a great threat to the native population and artifacts in the area. These are sacred lands and should not be tampered with,” said Ashley Soltysiak, the director of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club, in a phone interview.
The monument contains many ancient artifacts that the Native American population holds sacred. Moon House is one such artifact. It is a cliff dwelling that has been with the native population for nearly 1,000 years. The reduction to the monument put Moon House and other ancient artifacts at risk.
When President Obama expanded the land of Bears Ears in 2016, he did so with the ancient artifacts in mind. An official press release from the White House stated, “The area’s cultural importance to Native American tribes continues to this day. As they have for generations, these tribes and their members come here for ceremonies and to visit sacred sites.”
Soltysiak said, “It feels as though this was an attempt by the Trump administration to undo as much of the former president’s work as possible.” The reduction favors economic interests over the interests of ancient artifacts and sites.
The Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club also runs campaigns aimed at protecting these ancient artifacts. One, “keep public lands in public hands,” is directed toward stopping the increasing cuts to Utah’s public lands. The campaign runs on the basis of keeping our American history safe.
The new bill, created by President Trump, signed also by Utah Congressman John Curtis, and Utah representatives Rob Bishop, Chris Stewart and Mia Love, would reduce the size of the monument by 85%. It would create a new monument at the same time out of the remaining land.
The new monument, named Shash Jáa National Monument, would be created out of the remaining land in Bears Ears. The bill would open the land to three new opportunities.
Mining, geothermic leasing, and the sale of Bears Ears would be allowed by the Utah legislature. The economic expansion of this land would allow for more industrial activities to be carried out in the national monument.
Mining sites across the world have all seen similar beginnings. Sites like Tanami mine, located in Tanami, Australia, were created on land that was once protected by the government. The Tanami mine has since led to numerous environmental problems, such as cave-ins that threaten the lives of the native population working at the mine.
Another similar event happened in the Four Corners National Park. The land was taken away from the National Park to create more power plants to supply the area with power.
Like the Bears Ears National Monument, the Four Corners National Park was opened up to industrial activity. The Natural Resources Defense Council says this was in an attempt to solve the energy demands of the area. As the Four Corners area grew, its demands for energy became overwhelming.
This affected the native population of Navajo people. The largest effect was on local residents like Daniel Tso, a Navajo activist. Tso said, “The plants were giving off dangerous chemicals all the time. While we lived around it we were all breathing in those chemicals every day,” he said in a phone interview.
Native people all over the world have experienced a similar phenomenon. Government land grabs not only threaten the environment but the people living in the area as well. The Yanacocha mine in Lima, Peru, has an abundance of native protestors outside of its perimeter. They struggle to find the footing to overpower these industrial titans and take claim to their ancient land.
In many places around the world, industrial activities are the epicenter for conflict. Another example is the Tarkwa mine in Ghana, Africa. In 2018 the mine saw a hostile takeover as the native population violently fought to take the land back.
The controversy in Bears Ears has environmental groups worried. Like many places around the world, Bears Ears is under threat of losing important land and artifacts. The area means so much to native populations who have a rich history and priceless relics.