Native American leaders gather at state capitol for Bears Ears land rally

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A Ute Indian statue stands in front of the state capitol building. Many Ute tribe leaders were present during Wednesday’s rally in hopes of protecting Bears Ears and surrounding land. (Cassandra Shaffer)

A rally supporting the proposed Bears Ears monument gathered inside the capitol building Wednesday afternoon prefacing the special congressional sessions held in the House and Senate.

Leaders of local indigenous Indian tribes and community members came to show their support of the motion to protect land primarily occupied by indigenous people over many centuries. Leaders of the coalition to protect Bears Ears, and the 1.9 million acres of surrounding land, spoke in hopes that state legislators wouldn’t oppose President Obama from proclaiming the land a national monument.

“We hope to permanently protect the Bears Ears region through national monument designation under the antiquities act.” said Shaun Chapoose, chairman of the Ute Indian tribe. Chapoose said the site is culturally and spiritually important to the Ute Indian Tribe and should be preserved for future generations of tribal members.

Members of the Native American community gather inside the State Capital on Wednesday to support the Bears Ears Initiative. Many hope that the federal government will delegate the 1.9 million acres as a national monument. (Cassandra Shaffer)

“I think it’s interesting that Native Americans live on land with the majority of the natural resources and water in Utah but they don’t have any input or support from the state government,” said Tom Lovell, member of the board of directors for the Division of Indian Affairs in Utah.

While House Representative Keven J. Stratton believes it’s important to protect these lands, he said the decision-making authority regarding permanent protection should lie with state, rather than an appeal to the federal government and President Obama.

“We have our complete federal delegation in opposition to a national monument designation, and this gives us a chance to fulfill our constitutional responsibility to speak out on this issue,” Stratton said.

Rally participants said they an appeal to a higher branch of government is necessary because they are not getting the desired reaction and treatment from the state.

“We are trying to bring a more healing approach to the problem,” said Garon Coriz, a medical resident at University of Utah’s School of Family Medicine with Native American heritage. “There’s been a lot of opposition from both sides, you can’t just disregard the Native American voice because it’s in disagreement with your own. Native American’s have a spectrum of thought you have to respect.”

A rally participant holds a sign to show support for making Bears Ears a national monument. The coalition hopes to appeal to the federal government to protect this Southern Utah land. (Cassadra Shaffer)

Rally participants say designating the Southern Utah area as a national monument is the only way to truly protect the land.

“We want it to be a national monument, and the state is in opposition to that,” said rally participant Pete Sands from Southern Utah. “The state does not want to elect it as a monument because the state wants to use it for private entities. So that’s why we want to appeal to the federal government.”

Sands went on to express how important land protection is to him and the others in the Native American community.

“It’s all about preserving the ancient land and burial grounds,” Sands said.

According to Chapoose, overdevelopment would be the downfall of society.

“We will stand to protect our home,” Chapoose said. “I support the Bears Ears coalition.”

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