Hoodwinked in the hoodoos
February 9, 2016
One can only hope that the abject failure of the recently released fossil-fuel-industry-driven Public Lands Initiative (PLI) to coalesce much more than scorn will spur President Obama to designate the 1.9-million acre Bears Ears National Monument sooner rather than later.
A month or so back, when the "Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition" ceased interaction with the proposals being drawn up by Congressmen Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz and their drill-baby-drill playmates, they could tell which direction the Peabody coal train was heading.
They saw the writing on the wall. The Coalition, made up of the Hopi, Navajo, Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute, and Zuni Tribes and formally supported by 19 additional Sovereign Tribes as well as the National Congress of American Indians, had collective perspective. This wasn’t their first powwow.
That their issues were ignored to the extent they were might have surprised some in the Coalition. But for an indigenous community that had been running the pompous old-boys gauntlet of the San Juan County Commission going back to the backhoe-diplomacy days of Cal Black and beyond, they no doubt suspected that what lay behind the collective smirk of the local Feds would be more of the same.
With the tribes and the conservation lobby being the only ones at the table asked to compromise, the Bears Ears Coalition saw little recourse other than taking their proposal for meaningful protection of their ancestral homelands directly to the Executive Branch.
Call me naïve but I’m the kind of guy who actually believed that the PLI would be less obvious. Why I thought their end game wouldn’t be a slight-of-hand, loophole-rich land grab that also rolled back existing National Park air-quality standards is anybody’s guess.
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Of course, I also believed the preservation of Grizzly Gulch as part of the Mountain Accord agreement had been nailed down. Have I mentioned the breadth of my naiveté? But I digress!
Although the PLI is a net gain for the extractive industry, opening up more public land than it protects, its custodians continue to take bows for its magnanimous and inclusive approach, hauling out fractions and ratios to buttress their claims.
Even if we, as a planet, hadn’t already reached the point of no return as far as immediately turning all our resources toward renewable energies, there is the spiritual side of land that is totally ignored by the collective corporate profit motive.
That concept is made most evident by the manner in which the Bears Ears Coalition’s proposals have been ignored throughout the process, forcing them to seek redress from the Obama administration.
As Ute Mountain Ute Councilwoman Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk put it, "The President has a responsibility to think and act to take care of her because we all share one mother, and that’s Mother Earth."
It’s a concept that comes easily to those who have become one with the sacred landscape of the Colorado Plateau, especially southern Utah. There’s nothing quite like the blessings and epiphanies inherent to trekking the red-rock. It’s all about hiking boots, however. ATV excursions just don’t get you there!
Speaking of which, the PLI miraculously morphs cow trails into "highways" that can legally support further off-road desecrations of ancestral homelands while, at the same time, contributing vast areas of public land to the state for its amusement. The Recapture Canyon and Cliven Bundy mindsets must be drooling about now.
Luckily for us, most all of the important players on the land conservation side of the equation don’t rant and rave and threaten to jump ship, as seems to be my default position. They keep their eye on the prize, ever willing to resume negotiations.
I would offer a word of caution to our Honorable Representatives, however, that they are not easily hoodwinked. They have negotiated mazes of hoodoos and learned their secrets. They certainly won’t get lost amid the convolutions of corporate logic when the future is at stake.
So, Mr. President, the ball’s in your court and you’ve got the moral high ground. Designate the Bears Ears National Monument now. It’s the right thing at the right time and a very special place that should be set aside. Plus, your children will thank you for it!
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.
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