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Economic Development Comments

For Immediate Release: June 19, 2018
Contact – Alastair Lee Bitsoi: (917) 202-8308


Click on the thumbnail image below for the full size, official press release in a pdf document.



Re: Economic Development Comments on Monument Management Plans for the

Bears Ears National Monument by Utah Diné Bikéyah


Dear Mr. Porter,


In 2010, Utah Diné Bikéyah (UDB) initiated an effort to create the Bears Ears National

Monument, which we envision as a place for healing and activation of this cultural landscape

through prayer and traditional practice. Guided by an all-Native American Board of

Directors from each of the Native communities in San Juan County, Utah, UDB assists with

planning and engaging local Native citizens to ensure that cultural practices and natural

resource use by Tribes is understood in all planning efforts. We have conducted extensive

mapping of, and compilation of information about these resources, some of which has

previously been shared with BLM officials in the Washington, DC office and is available for

informing this planning effort upon request.


On December 28, 2016, President Obama issued Proclamation 9558 establishing

the Bears Ears National Monument, an area encompassing 1.35 million acres of federal lands

in southeastern Utah on Native American traditional lands. 82 Fed. Reg. 1139 (Jan. 5, 2017).

The Bears Ears National Monument that President Obama established stemmed from the

Bears Ears National Monument proposal that was submitted on October 15, 2015, by the

Hopi Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Navajo Nation, and Zuni Tribe

through the Bears Ears Inter-tribal Coalition in collaboration with Utah Diné Bikéyah

(UDB). This proposal requested the protection of 1.9 million acres of federal lands. While

the monument ultimately created by the Proclamation encompassed a reduced 1.3 million

acres, it was nonetheless a celebrated protection for innumerable interrelated tribal cultural

resources across the Bears Ears region. It was also the first Native American-led national

monument designation in the United States.


Protecting these tribal cultural resources and the cultural landscape was the primary purpose

and original intent behind the tribes submitting the Bears Ears National Monument

proposal, and it was a key focal point of the subsequent Proclamation 9558 establishing the

Bears Ears National Monument. The Bears Ears National Monument has ancestral, historic,

and present-day ties to many southwestern tribes that not only include the Bears Ears Inter-

Tribal Coalition tribes (the Hopi Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Navajo

Nation, and Zuni Tribe) but also the 19 Pueblos and several other Tribes in the region, such

as the San Juan Southern Paiute, Kaibab Paiute, Paiute Tribe of Utah, and the Hualapai

Tribe. All of these tribes maintain an ongoing cultural presence at the Bears Ears National

Monument. In recognition of the important role the Bears Ears area serves for these tribes,

Proclamation 9558 required the establishment of an Inter-tribal Bears Ears Commission and

the creation of a tribal collaborative management plan in order to protect the rich tribal,

cultural, religious, and natural resources within the entire Bears Ears National Monument.


On December 4, 2017, President Trump issued Proclamation 9861, which illegally reduced

the National Monument by 85% or 1.1 million acres to two units within the original Bears

Ears National Monument boundaries: the Shaash Jaa’ (herein correctly spelled throughout

this document as Shash Jaa’) Unit and Indian Creek Unit. 83 Fed. Reg. 2181-83. Sixty days

later, mineral lease permitting was opened within the Bears Ears National Monument areas

not contained within the Shash Jaa’ and Indian Creek units. An expedited and unlawful

planning process was proposed on January 16, 2018, when the Bureau of Land Management

(BLM) and the United States Forest Service (USFS) announced their intent to develop

Monument Management Plans (MMPs) and complete an Environmental Impact Statement

for the Shash Jaa’ and Indian Creek units. 83 Fed. Reg. 2181-83. It is inappropriate and

premature to conduct scoping sessions and plan for the illegally reduced portions of Bears

Ears National Monument before courts have the opportunity to address the legality of the

Trump Administration’s use of the Antiquities Act.


Even so, the subject of Economic Development is an important one that Utah Diné Bikéyah

(UDB) has dedicated significant effort to over the past 5 years. The original Bears Ears

National Monument has been a central component of our culturally-rooted economic

development planning. Just last night, we had a meeting with traditional basketmakers who

harvest materials from Bears Ears and shared their vision for a future that includes their

land-use and economic needs. Basketmakers, firewood collectors, herbalists, medicine men

and women, spiritual leaders, hunters, cultural tour guides, elected officials, and elders are all

looking to the BLM and future land plans to finally include their voices and needs. UDB has

collected video, oral statements, and site specific information critical to planning. UDB

would like the opportunity to share this and other information it has collected with the BLM

to assist with the MMP planning process, if it is to move forward, but has not been able to

do so to date. We have offered many times this past year, but these meetings have not been



America has thrived by engaging people representing diverse cultures in our economy. We

have enjoyed immense benefit from the blending of cultures and traditions from all over the

world. Sadly, we have mostly ignored the wisdom of Native Americans whose traditions and

cultures evolved on this land. That wisdom should be included in the process of planning

the future of public lands in southeastern Utah.


Since San Juan County is the only county in Utah that fits the U.S. Census definition of

persistent poverty, the initial planning work should evaluate the potential economic costs

and benefits of the original monument designation. One thing is certain: business as usual

will not reduce poverty or correct the severe shortage of employment opportunities in San

Juan County.


The original Bears Ears National Monument offered abundant opportunities to establish

locally owned business and reduce the reliance on corporations located far from Utah. Local

business ownership provides alternatives to the disruptive boom and bust episodes of the

resource extractive based economy. San Juan County’s economy could be diversified and

stabilized by restoring the original monument boundaries.


The original monument designation would have allowed significant progress in alleviating

the shortage of local employment opportunities. It held out the promise of creating greater

economic equity across the County’s dehumanizing racial divide, and it would have reduced

the out-migration of young people seeking employment elsewhere.


San Juan County struggles to fund adequate infrastructure and schools. Residents living

adjacent to Blanding in the Westwater community, as well as hundreds of other San Juan

County families, do not have access to electricity or running water—conditions that most

Americans find alarming. The original monument designation was of sufficient scale to be a

catalyst for resolving the County’s serious social and economic justice issues.


The BLM is a significant employer in San Juan County. UDB would like to see a process of

community engagement to determine whether the Bears Ears visitor center should be

located in Bluff, White Mesa, Mexican Hat, Blanding or other community. We also

recommend that a great majority of new jobs that may arise if funding is adequately

increased go to citizens who have the Native American cultural background to engage

tourists and carry out law enforcement, monitoring, restoration, planning, as well as the

highest level administrative positions. SJC is 53% Native American and local Native

Americans know more about the Bears Ears landscape than anyone given our deep ancestral



It is important to understand that neither public nor private resources have impacted the

economic lives of Native communities in SJC at any level comparable to other communities

in the United States. Therefore, traditional economic patterns are still intact and interact

freely with the post-colonial economy. It is important that the BLM understand the depth of

the ties of this traditional economy to the Bears Ears landscape and ensure that management

planning decisions do not negatively affect these old systems, even as new economic

opportunities are pursued. Parts of the traditional economy are not monetized or are

minimally so, such as art resources, home heating through firewood, and ceremonially

healing using traditional foods and medicines.


San Juan County is full of traditional artists, healers, historians (story tellers), and elders who

hold deep ties and vast knowledge for this landscape. How will they be engaged in this

planning effort given the lack of effort and outreach by the Department of Interior in past

planning efforts? What will happen if extractive industries apply for permits to drill or mine

the formerly protected national monument? Will traditional cultural activities be protected,

or will our cultures be allowed to erode in exchange for monetary gain? Other BLM field

offices in Utah have leased traditional pinyon pine nut gathering regions to non-Native

commercial enterprises. Will this plan protect our gathering areas inside and outside of the

new national monument boundaries? How about medicinal herb collection?


UDB has partnered with the University of Utah on a multi-year National Science

Foundation grant to study current and traditional firewood collection practices of Ute and

Navajo communities. Preliminary reports are available upon request to incorporate into this

BLM planning process.


The Four Corners potato (Solanum jamesii) has been harvested in Utah for 11,000 years and

was recently “re-discovered” as a cultivated crop by University of Utah and U.S. Department

of Agriculture researchers. This species has multiple populations within Bears Ears National

Monument that require special management to ensure persistence. And as food plant, it has

large economic potential to serve high-end culinary markets around the U.S., in addition to

strengthening Native communities that bring its traditions home. This summer many Tribes

will likely be ceremonially repatriating this potato back into their communities with the aim

of farming it after more than a century of absence due to negative impacts from

colonization. UDB is wondering how is the BLM currently managing this high value plant

species, and how will you ensure that the nearly 11,000 years of use and subsequent

cultivation by Pueblo people and other Tribes are not lost? UDB and the University of Utah

have several grants already (and more planned) that will help us understand this amazing

potato and its potential to create jobs in Native communities. Letters of support from Tribes

and organizations regarding their desire to bring this potato to market are available on



New fossil quarries were also discovered in Bears Ears since the proclamation of the national

monument by President Obama. UDB is helping the BLM, academic researchers, and the

public understand the significant role of these resources to Tribes. Discussions are underway

about how to offer tours and build a paleo economy for people to learn about this history.

Native American running culture in the southwest is very significant and many Native trail

runners are already flocking to Bears Ears. What will be the impact to runners, including to

their health, if resources such as land, air, and water diminish under the new plan?

UDB has been planning to help build a Native Wisdom and Culture Center since 2013 to

advance traditional knowledge research, provide elder and youth community spaces, and

provide tourism resources. What is the impact on our plans under the current BLM planning



The White Mesa community of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Mexican Water and Oljato

Chapter Houses of the Navajo Nation are all involved in community-led economic

development discussions around Bears Ears National Monument. Will the BLM incorporate

their recommendations into this planning effort? If so, how should these communities

deliver and obtain information while so much uncertainty exists about the future of the

national monument?


The redistricting of County Commission election boundaries this year may change the future

economic development priorities of the State of Utah and SJC. Past plans scarcely included

the perspectives of the Native American majority of the County (see 2008 SJC Master Plan,

and UDB’s critique of this plan, available on request). What will the BLM do moving

forward to address the discriminatory actions and the lack of consideration of local Native

American citizens? For example, oil and gas drilling and uranium mining have poisoned our

people and contaminated our reservation lands. Bears Ears has been protected from these

impacts due to Native occupation of these lands through the 1960s. We want to ensure that

our cultural ties are not destroyed in this area, as these corporations have done to our own

lands. What will the BLM do to secure our future in regards to our right to be included in

planning, and our the human rights we hold to access our traditional springs, burial grounds,

hunting and gathering areas, and sacred sites? Please include an analysis of the impacts this

planning will have on our indigenous rights as defined in the United Nations Declaration on

the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the US has endorsed.



Utah Diné Bikéyah objects to the diminishment of the Bears Ears National

Monument by 85% percent and its division into two units—the Shash Jaa’ unit and the

Indian Creek unit—because it fails to account for the entire cultural

landscape and the hundreds of thousands of

historic and cultural resources that will be negatively impacted, as well as current and future

economic opportunities tied to the original Bears Ears boundaries. In addition, we object to

expedited monument management planning process, given that the legality of Proclamation

9861 is currently being challenged in court.


In the event that BLM moves forward in this planning process, we request that all of the

economic ties of the five Tribes involved in UDB as well as the ten Native American

communities in San Juan County be fully understood prior to a decision. We hope that the

above comments, and subsequent interactions with the BLM help to inform the management

planning process.




Gavin Noyes

Executive Director

Utah Diné Bikéyah