Jackson Hole’s annual SHIFT Festival kicked off this week with Native American leaders defending Bears Ears National Monument. Each year, SHIFT gathers outdoor enthusiasts from around the nation. This year, Native American leaders took center stage.
Eric Descheenie, now a Democrat in the Arizona State House of Representatives, served as Co-Chair of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, which helped drive the designation of the 1.35 million-acre monument in southern Utah. Descheenie, who is Navajo, said the designation sparked joy for tribal members and a chance to heal historic wounds.
“One of the things that doesn’t really get spoken much about with respect to the national monument is the intergenerational trauma that exists in and around that region,” he said. “When you think about it a lot of folks immediately think in terms of conservation, which of course very much that’s a part of it, but there’s a human element in all of this and it goes back generations.”
Descheenie joined other Native American leaders on stage at the Jackson Hole Center for the Arts on Wednesday night to tell SHIFT attendees why Bears Ears is prized by the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, Ute Indian Tribe and other tribes. Tribal members go to Bears Ears to pray, conduct religious ceremonies, collect healing herbs and connect with their ancestral history.
President Trump, who’s threatening to shrink the monument, needs to include tribes and the American public in decisions about the monument, Descheenie said.
“There has to be more due diligence. There has to be more responsible government, coming out of the White House and the Department of Interior, and actually, the list goes on, with respect to the future of the Bears Ears National Monument, and we are not getting that,” Descheenie said.
President Obama designated the monument in December 2016 to protect ancient rock art and artifacts from looting and recreational activities. While prized by tribal leaders, several state and federal Republican officials oppose the monument. Trump plans to visit Utah in December when he’s expected to release more details about future plans for the nation’s newest monument.