Bears Ears National Monument (BENM) was created in 2016 by President Obama at the request of the 5 Tribes of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition (BEITC) after years of advocacy by Native American citizens in San Juan County, Utah. Utah Diné Bikéyah (UDB), is a 501 (c)3 nonprofit organization whose members spent three years interviewing elders and building support for protecting the region. UDB is not a tribe, but a Native American land conservation organization, which works toward healing of people and the Earth by supporting indigenous communities in protecting their culturally significant, ancestral lands. In 2015, we asked the sovereign nations of the BEITC which consists of the Navajo, Hopi, Ute, Ute Mountain, and Zuni1 Tribes to take over the proposal as sovereign decision-makers capable of engaging directly with the United States on a government to government basis.
Many Tribes across the U.S. have leant their support to Bears Ears including the Lummi Nation which gifted a bear totem pole at the 2018 Summer Gathering held near the Bears Ears buttes. The Bear Totem Pole is a gesture of goodwill and support from the Lummi Nation to the tribes of the Bears Ears region. Similarly, the Lummi People are fighting to protect their Ancestral territory – the Salish Sea from pollution and degradation. This totem is good medicine and blesses all in its path.
UDB, BEITC, sister tribes, and many allies in the conservation community are working to restore BENM to its original 1.35-million acre size after it was illegally reduced by 85% in 2017 by President Trump. Along with reducing Bears Ears, President Trump also shrunk Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in 2017 by 50%. We are currently in litigation to overturn this decision. Thus, we continue to oppose the reduction of BENM and the rushed, expedited land management process by the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service for the Shash Jaa’ and Indian Creek Units until the courts settle this ongoing litigation.
1Please use these official names of each Tribe when referring to sovereign tribal governments.
As intact communities with rich culture, language, foods, and ceremony, the tribes of the Bears Ears Region also refer to themselves by names bestowed on them by our Creator. For example, people from the Navajo Nation refer to ourselves as Navajo or Diné while our political body is called the Navajo Nation. In addition to being called Ute, the Ute people are also known as the Nuchu, the Hopi people as Hopi Senom, and Zuni people as A:shiwi.
Ancestral Puebloan Peoples (Hopi, Zuni, 18 Pueblos in New Mexico, and Ysleta del Sur in TX)
Pueblo natives are an ancient people whose histories begin with the Archaic Age I – Early Basketmaker Age I (7000-1500 BC) to the present-day Pueblo V age (1600 AD – Present). Ancestral Pueblo lands, migration routes, and ancient structures extend across the Colorado Plateau, which includes the Four Corners region, and extends into north-central Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and northwest New Mexico. Some Pueblo origins begin near present-day Salt Lake City at the end of last Ice Age (Pleistocene Age). Many Pueblo civilizations have extensive histories in the Bears Ears National Monument and hold important stories about the Bears Ears region. Pueblo non-secular leaders have active altars within the Bears Ears Monument and visit these sites regularly. The large villages, kivas and other Ancestral sites at Bears Ears National Monument are all of Pueblo origin.
Diné is the most culturally appropriate way to refer to Diné peoples. According to the 2010 census, there approximately 173,667 Diné people living within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation. However, across the U.S. there are approximately 500,000 Diné people. Diné people have strong cultural ties to the Bears Ears region. Most Diné citizens in southern Utah can trace their ancestral ties to Bears Ears with some families having lived there as recently as the 1960’s. UDB Board Chair Willie Grayeyes says the Diné people have been in the Bears Ears Region since time immemorial. Additionally, the ancestral territory of the Diné people expands into Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah, all of which is considered Diné Bikéyah (Diné Territory).
The Villages of Hopi (Bakabi, Moenkopi, Kykotsmovi, Sipaulavi, Mishongnovi, Shungopov, Oraibi, Hotevilla, and Lower Moenkopi) are located on a portion of Hopi ancestral lands in northeast Arizona. Our Hopi people are the descendants of the Ancestral Puebloan civilizations at Bears Ears, as well as deep into what is now known as Utah. The name of Hopi is a shortened name for Hopituh-Shi-nu-mu or The Peaceful People. According to the 2010 Census count, there are 19,327 enrolled Hopi tribal members. The Hopi speak Hopilavayi, their native language.
The Nuchu (Utes) are a diverse group of people. Traditional teaching, life ways, and spiritual beliefs are all different depending on family, band, and tribe. Currently, there are seven bands of Nuchu spread across three sovereign nations who live in Utah and Colorado – the Ute Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation (approximately 3,157 tribal members), the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe (approximately 1,200 tribal members), and the Southern Ute Tribe (approximately 1,400 tribal members).
When Ute people speak, they are likely speaking in this context, so please be clear in your media coverage that you spoke with an individual speaking for themselves and do not suggest anything broader. Nuchu are very private with their spiritual beliefs. Be sensitive to this and allow space for your interviewees to decline an answer.
The Utes’s traditional territory encompasses the Bears Ears region. Some of the elders you will meet from Ute Mountain Ute were raised inside the Monument. To be respectful, it is advisable to provide a small gift when interviewing Ute elders, if possible.
The Zuni Pueblo (Shiwinna) are located near the western New Mexico Zuni Plateau, southwest of the city of Gallup. Their ancestral structures and holy lands extend all the way from the Grand Canyon to the Wasatch Mountain range and beyond Salt Lake City, Utah. According to the 2010 Census statistics, there are 6,367 enrolled tribal members. Zuni tribal members speak the language of Zuni, a language isolate uniquely only to them.
See the Native American Journalists Association3 guide for general guidance on reporting on Native American issues. Specifically, for Bears Ears, we recommend the following terms:
|Do Use||Don’t Use|
|Ancient Structure(s) or Ancestral Sites||Ruin(s)|
|Creation Narrative||Creation Story, Myth, Lore or Legend, Pre-History|
|Earth Mother||Mother Earth|
|Ancestral Territory||Public Lands|
Pan-Indianism and cultural appropriation are positive and negative ways of describing the same kind of inter-mixing of indigenous cultures across North America. This is an issue Tribes condemn when outsiders appropriate our cultures, but it is also an issue to approach delicately as it happens within and between Tribes. Learn more at www.utahdinebikeyah.org and be careful in your coverage of this issue.
The official Utah Diné Bikéyah hashtags for Bears Ears are: #BearsEarsHeals #StandWithBearsEars #HonorTribes #IndigenousFoodHeals.