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Guest opinion: Bears Ears a spiritual treasure Zinke should honor

By Jared Meek special To The Herald - | Mar 3, 2017

Very soon, our state will have the honor of hosting Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

One of his first actions as our new Secretary of the Interior will be to come learn more about the Bears Ears National Monument. I hope during his visit he will see this special place through the eyes of many who treasure it.

As a Utahn of LDS faith, I am grateful for our new Bears Ears National Monument because of my commitment to racial justice, religious freedom and maintaining the beauty of our home on Earth. For these reasons, together with approximately 200 people of LDS faith who signed a grassroots Bears Ears National Monument support letter, I urge Secretary Zinke to uphold the national monument’s integrity as it was established.

There are many reasons to respect and honor the Bears Ears National Monument. Primary among those reasons is the preservation of the spirituality, natural heritage and culture of the five tribes whose councils voted to endorse the monument proposal, and whose official leaders called on President Obama to designate it a national monument.

On the day of the monument designation, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye released a statement about the historical significance of Bears Ears for Navajo people:

“There was a time when our nations, American and Navajo, were at war with each other — when the U.S. Cavalry forcibly rounded up Navajo men, women and children, and marched them at gunpoint to a foreign land hundreds of miles away. During this time, some of my Navajo ancestors successfully hid at a sacred place of prayer, shelter and fortitude: the Bears Ears area of Utah.”

It is part of my LDS faith commitment to show respect and care to my neighbors of all colors and creeds, including and especially tribes that have historically endured persecution. They deserve this safe place to be conserved forever, and the designation of the Bears Ears National Monument is a large step in the right direction toward reparations between the United States and her indigenous people.

Unfortunately, there is a misinformation campaign going around about the monument, and most members of our Utah U.S. Congressional delegation are calling on President Trump and Secretary Zinke to undermine this new treasure. It is disappointing that our politicians in Utah continue to attack the monument, especially since the final monument boundary reflects a compromise between the acreage they recommended and what the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition wanted.

To anyone who wants reliable information about this monument, I recommend reading the official Presidential Proclamation establishing it, which makes clear how the monument will be managed. Hunting and fishing public access will remain, and tribes will be able to continue traditional activities such as collecting plants and firewood.

The new national monument is a wonderful thing for members of the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition, and a wonderful thing for Utahns, where 70 percent surveyed support these protections. Its designation is comparable to the making of Zion and Arches when they were declared monuments decades ago.

Utahns of many backgrounds will honor and defend our new Bears Ears National Monument, and we hope Secretary Zinke understands why.

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