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Erasing Native American Religious Traditions: Cultural Erasure Continues

Array ( [0] => ENGL 6330 Spring 2018 [1] => no-show [2] => student exhibit )

Rising from the center of the southeastern Utah landscape and visible from every direction are twin buttes so distinctive that in each of the native languages of the region their name is the same: Hoon'Naqvut, Shash Jáa, Kwiyagatu Nukavachi, Ansh An Lashokdiwe, or "Bears Ears."

President Obama, Presidential Proclamation, 1

A map of Bears Ears National Monument

On December 4, 2017, President Trump signed H.R. 4532 or the Shash Jáa National Monument and Indian Creek National Monument Act.  This act has reduced the size of Bears Ears National Monument by an estimated 85%.[1]  The decision to scale back the size of Bears Ears has dredged up controversy as Shaun Chapoose, member of the Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee stated “no one from tribes making up the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, and no one from any federally recognized Tribe was contacted to advise, consult, or assist in the development of H.R. 4532.”[1] 

To make matters more complicated Bears Ears was originally designated a National Monument on December 28, 2016, only a year earlier.  In the Presidential Proclamation by President Obama it states "For hundreds of generations, native peoples lived in the surrounding deep sandstone canyons, desert mesas, and meadow mountaintops, which constitute one of the densest and most significant cultural landscapes in the United States. Abundant rock art, ancient cliff dwellings, ceremonial sites, and countless other artifacts provide an extraordinary archaeological and cultural record that is important to us all, but most notably the land is profoundly sacred to many Native American tribes, including the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah Ouray, Hopi Nation, and Zuni Tribe."[2]

While the original proclamation was supported by the Inter-Tribal Coalition many "politicians, ranchers, and business groups" opposed the creation of the Monument.[3]  Many questioned why the Federal Government needed to get involved in the first place.  Others, like Phil Lyman, a descendant of pioneers believes "the monument designation [is] grand theft" and nothing more than a "land grab."[4]

Each of these flash-points bring to light the efforts of individuals and institutions at erasing Native American Culture for centuries.  While Native American tribes have made an effort to overcome these struggles by working with institutions and each other, the conflict over Bears Ears National Monument demonstrates cultural erasure still threaten tribes into the twenty-first century.  

[1] "Native American Tribes Oppose H.R. 4532 - a Bill to Codify the Repeal and Replacement of Bears Ears National Monument." 9 Jan. 2018, Bears Ears Coalition, http://bearsearscoalition.org/native-american-tribes-oppose-h-r-4532-a-bill-to-codify-the-repeal-and-replacement-of-bears-ears-national-monument/. Accessed 24 Apr. 2018.

[2] Obama, Barak. "Presidential Proclamation -- Establishment of the Bears Ears National Monument." 28 Dec 2016. The White House. Presidential Proclamation.

[3] Isaacson, Andy. "Two New National Monuments Created in Utah and Nevada." National Geographic, 28 Dec. 2016, https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/12/bears-ears-gold-butte-national-monument-utah-nevada/. Accessed 24 Apr 2018.

[4] Turkewitz, Julie. "Battle over Bears Ears Heats Up as Trump Rethinks Its Monument Status." The New York Times, 14 May 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/14/us/bears-ears-ryan-zinke.html. Accessed 24 Apr. 2018. 


Obama, Barak. "Presidential Proclamation -- Establishment of the Bears Ears National Monument." 28 Dec 2016. The White House. Presidential Proclamation.

Image Credit

Bureau of Land Management. Bears Ears National Monument. March 2017. The Archive, https://web.archive.org/web/20171027195121/https://www.blm.gov/sites/blm.gov/files/UT_BearsEars_NM.pdf. Accessed 24 Apr. 2018.