“These archaeological sites, these artifacts are the footprints of our people. We do not see these sites as ‘ruins’ or as being abandoned. The spirits of our ancestors still inhabit the Bears Ears. When these sites are looted or damaged, not only our history but our future is disrespected.” – Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, director of the Cultural Preservation Office for the Hopi Tribe.
BLUFF UTAH – it’s the 110th anniversary of the first law to establish archaeological sites on public lands to be important public resources, the Antiquities Act, but even today, affirmative action is needed if we are to continue to protect our national and cultural heritage. There are thousands of sites across the United States that still need government protection, lest we lose what they have to offer us. One such site is the Bears Ears region in Utah.
The Bears Ears region has more than 100,000 archaeological sites alone. It sports cliff dwellings, rock art, scores of unique artifacts and Native American burials, and thousands of towers, shrines, and pueblos. Each of the sites are in phenomenal condition. They represent a huge portion of Ancestral Pueblo sites in the United States. It was here, in fact, that archaeologists first discovered the Basketmaker culture. Researchers and tribes alike say that it holds enormous potential to tell us about the foggy prehistory of the US. Archaeologists have been trying to preserve it for over a century.
“From an archaeological perspective, the value of the Bears Ears area is beyond question…Each day it remains unprotected, we are losing a window to the past” – Bill Lipe, member of the Board of Trustees of the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center
While the Antique Act of 1906 protects national heritage sites all over the United States from looting, desecration, and grave robbing, Utah has some special laws of it own, and Bears Ears has never had protection from these crimes. Over the years, the area in San Juan County, Utah, has been subject to a horrific amount of archaeological site damage, grave robbing, and general destruction. There’s been 26 recorded incidents at Bears Ears since 2011 alone. Seven of those incidents occurred in the past six months. Utah’s government has assigned just one officer to protect the area. This can no longer be ignored. The site must be taken care of, lest we lose the amazing cultural narrative about the ancient Native Americans who lived there forever.
A coalition of five sovereign tribal nations, including the Navajo, Hopi, Ute Mountain Ute, Unitah and Ouray Ute, and Zuni has become increasingly concerned about losing the history of Bears Ears. Together, these tribes are called the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition. The group has asked that the government create a national park in the Bears Ears area. It’s to stretch for 1.9 million acres, to protect and honor Native American cultural heritage and resources.
Yet, despite the numerous voices raised to protect this important site, the pleas of archaeologists and Native American tribes have both been unheard by Congress. No bill has been introduced yet that moves to protect the Bears Ears area, says the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.
This year, 700 archaeologists signed and wrote a letter directly to President Obama, appealing to him to designate the Bears Ears area as a national park. It definitely deserves this. The ongoing damage to this area is horrific and irreversible. We can’t afford to lose this part of our history. This isn’t just the story of the Pueblo tribe in Utah. This is all us: our history, The United States’ history, an invaluable narrative that we can’t afford to lose. If we lose it, we lose ourselves: who we are, where we came from, and, perhaps, where we’re going.