BLUFF, Utah (AP) - Utah Navajos are leading a campaign to create a new conservation area in the southeastern corner of the state to stake a claim to what they consider their homeland.
The Navajo recently hosted a tour of the area to demonstrate why the area deserves a federal designation. They invited members of the Cochiti Pueblo, Hopi, Hualapai, Ute Mountain Ute and Zuni Pueblo tribes on the tour.
The 1.9 million-acre areas, which would be called the Bears Ears National Conservation Area, would not only preserve archaeological sites but also ensure that ceremonial uses of the land will always be allowed, such as gathering plants for medicinal purposes, The Salt Lake Tribune reports (https://bit.ly/1bq2DFb).
“We want to re-protect the land that we love,” Navajo elder Mark Maryboy said . “Our elders were forcibly removed from those lands and never had a chance to articulate how they felt. Our people were not at the table when the U.S. government created public and private lands.”
Maryboy said the tour opened the eyes of many Native Americans who weren’t aware of the value of the area to their history. A member of the Hopi Tribe was surprised to see his family’s Flute Clan symbol in a rock pictograph, Maryboy said.
“It was a very powerful, very emotional tour,” Maryboy said. “A lot of them didn’t realize how much history and how much evidence their people left behind. There are many generations.”
The proposed area covers from the edge of Canyonlands National Park to the San Juan River and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area on the south to approximately U.S. Highway 191 on the east and the Colorado River on the west.
It is larger than three other plans to expand federal land protections in the region, including the Greater Canyonlands proposal.
The proposal is driven by a desire to prevent further destruction of historical artifacts and make sure the land remains sacred.
“Rooms are desecrated. Pot hunters have come and taken most of the pottery, and ruins are being destroyed every day,” Maryboy said. “This is their homeland, and they need to help us find a way to protect it.”
Two other groups are proposing protected areas in the region but with different boundaries. U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, also is working on a proposal that would settle what lands are open to extractive industries and what would be protected to preserve natural and cultural values.
The area is rich with thousands of archaeological sites important to tribes, Bureau of Land Management preservation officer Nate Thomas said. His agency is neutral on the tribal proposal.
There are rock structures under ledges, petroglyphs and pictographs on sandstone walls.
Looters have for years targeted the area, digging up sacred objects from burial sites.
“Anywhere else in the world this region would be nationally protected, even without the archaeology,” said Josh Ewing, a Bluff resident who leads Friends of Cedar Mesa. “There is no place so rich in archaeology in such a beautiful natural environment.”
Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, https://www.sltrib.com
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