How many times have native peoples recommended the inclusion of long-term traditional knowledge as the primary rationale for managing and monitoring of federal lands? Did we mention our cultural structures are closely linked to environmental conditions? Modern natural resource management has good intentions but the search for best practices has not satisfactorily included constructive and practical native approaches and values.
The effort by five tribes to establish a new national monument west of the Four Corners region is worthy of our attention. The Bears Ears Monument proposal is an assertion that tribes and the federal government will collaboratively co-manage the monument as equal partners. Upper-level policy and decision-making for the monument would be conducted through a monument commission comprised of equally numbered tribal and federal representatives. Tribal authority would not be limited to a tribal advisory committee and input would not be limited to occasional tribal consultations.
I believe the Bears Ears monument concept will directly address the asymmetry of federal land management authorities and actualize a vision by many whereby indigenous traditional knowledge and science are given equal treatment and application. This is particularly important in this case because the Bears Ears area is dense with cultural resources and is still an operative cultural landscape for several regional tribes. The ancient springs, shelters, shrines, petroglyphs, pictographs, plant and mineral gathering places of the Bears Ears area once consecrated even long ago are blessed in perpetuity and must be protected. Sadly, the area of the proposed monument has been ground zero for looters of cultural resources. As tribal peoples have become increasingly mobile and able to visit the Bears Ears area, what they find is not always pleasant.
Imagine a national monument where your presence is needed to complete a co-existing relationship of people and place. How this sense of home and place is interpreted would be a special task for the monument’s tribal and federal staff. Let us not forget, young natives are coming out of universities with new capabilities and eagerness to apply a new stewardship to natural and cultural resources. There would not be a requirement to simulate any other land management planning process. Instead there will be an opportunity to make the monument a place for mediation among experiences and sensibilities, science and traditional knowledges, to create original meaning from a complicated history and with a new relevance, to negotiate and create innovative plans based in new environmental criteria, lexicon, and vision. A Bears Ears monument would signify restoration.
The Bears Ears landscape is a complex of notes and memorials, hand made testaments of hope and resilience in the American southwest. Even without the ability to speak for itself the place called Bears Ears reminds me, I am of this place.
Jim Enote is the director of the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center.