We just returned from a visit to the Bears Ears National Monument in Southern Utah in the company of nearly 30 faith and tribal leaders. Our group undertook the journey to stand in solidarity with the indigenous tribes that have held this land sacred for millennia, and to raise a moral voice for the importance of the protection of indigenous sacred sites and public lands that are endangered by the expressed intention of the Trump Administration to diminish or eliminate many national monuments.
On our journey to Bears Ears, we were moved by the way that the sacred land brought our group together spiritually. Coming from many faith and spiritual backgrounds, we were united as one by the joy and renewal that the beauty of the land brought to our hearts. We stood in awe before grand, multi-colored canyons. Delight rippled through our group when we saw wild turkeys ambling through the woods and when a large buck turned his antlered head toward us and held us in his gaze. Each of us felt the healing and rejuvenating power of the land as we walked in a flourishing forest.
Each of our national monuments is a unique treasure handed down from our ancestors, a treasure that we must protect for our descendants. In the case of Bears Ears, five native tribes put aside past differences to work together with a unified vision to identify scores of sacred sites and then to map the traditional tribal pathways and large animal corridors that linked those sites as one ecosystem.
Both Woody Lee, a Utah Diné Bikéyah leader, and Joseph Brophy Toledo, traditional leader of Jemez Pueblo, reminded us that Bears Ears National Monument is uniquely the work of indigenous tribes to preserve their heritage, the land where they go to hunt, gather medicinal herbs and seek healing. Their work is now a gift to the American people, an awesome and beautiful expanse of land where people from every walk of life can go to be filled with the wonder of God’s Creation.
The sacred land of Bears Ears is now under threat. In a secret set of proposals that was later leaked to the press, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke recommended diminishing numerous national monuments, including Bears Ears. Instead of preserving the entire complex eco-system at Bears Ears, Secretary Zinke seems inclined to draw circles around separate antiquity sites and preserve just these isolated locations. This misguided plan highlights exactly why it is vital to protect all of Bears Ears.
The monument stands as a living testimony to the inter-connected nature of the natural world. The streams, forests, bears, deer, elk and mountain lions are all flourishing in Bears Ears because the complex web that gives them life has not been broken. This web of relations is what drew us to Bears Ears. What happens at Bears Ears happens to us, our families, and our communities. This beautiful land that is sacred to over 30 indigenous tribes is sacred to us, both because of its flourishing beauty and because an attack on one sacred site is an attack on the sanctity of all sacred sites, including the churches and synagogues where we go to be in community, to pray and to heal.
We have written to Secretary Zinke, President Trump and our congressional representatives stating that the five indigenous tribes, our own religious communities and the American people need and deserve that Bears Ears and the other national monuments be left whole and healthy for future generations. We urge you to do the same.
Rabbi Nahum Ward-Lev
Temple Beth Shalom
Santa Fe, NM
Rev. Lorrie Gaffney
United Church of Christ
Salt Lake City, Utah
Rev. Andrew Black
First Presbyterian Church
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Rev. Dr. William M. Lyons
Conference Minister Southwest Conference UCC
Sister Joan Brown, osf
Franciscan and Executive Director, NM Interfaith Power & Light
Chaplain Jeff Swanson
U.S. Marine Combat Veteran & USAF Chaplain (Ret.)
Evangelical Lutheran Church of America
Alamogordo, New Mexico
Rev. Karen Winkel
Community Spirit United Church of Christ