Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland visits area to investigate national monument boundaries

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland recently completed a three-day visit to the area to investigate the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments.

The first Native American Secretary of the Interior arrived in Bluff on Wednesday, April 7, where she met with tribal officials, including Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.

Nez said he supports the restoration of the 1.35-million acres in the initial monument boundaries and the potential expansion to the 1.9 million acres initially proposed by the Inter-Tribal Coalition when it recommended the establishment of the monument to President Obama.

“This was an opportunity to share with Secretary Haaland the significance of Bears Ears to the Navajo people,” said Nez. “This landscape is home to many historical and cultural sites, plants, water, traditional medicines, and teachings for our people. It also provided refuge for our people in times of conflict.”

“Bears Ears is sacred and it deserves to be protected,” Nez added.

Secretary Haaland also met on April 7 with Utah Governor Spencer Cox, Lt. Gov. Diedre Henderson, and members of the Utah Congressional delegation, including Senator Mitt Romney, and Representatives John Curtis and Blake Moore.

On April 8, Haaland left Bluff early for a ceremonial visit with tribal elders. Davis Filfred, Utah Dine Bikeyah Board Chairman, said it was an honor and a privilege to accompany Secretary Haaland to an early morning Native American ceremony on top of Cedar Mesa, near the Moki Dugway and overlooking the Goosenecks, Valley of the Gods and Monument Valley

While the private ceremonial visit was taking place, other members of the delegation briefly toured several sites, including the Wolfman Panel, and the Procession Panel in Butler Wash.  Afterward, the larger group, including Haaland, met at the Moki Dugway and visited several sites together on Cedar Mesa, Mule Canyon, and Butler Wash.

During a visit to a little-known archaeological site on Cedar Mesa, Carelton Bowekaty, Lt Gov of Pueblo Zuni, explained the Native American connection to the area and the desire of the Inter-Tribal Coalition to see it protected. The site has been impacted by livestock, wood gathering, and visitation, and was recently fenced in order to protect it from further degradation.

The group also stopped at the Cave Tower site on Mule Canyon, which is on a section of State Trust Land administered by SITLA, the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration.  SITLA Director David Ure met with the group to discuss the site, along with the large number of state trust land sections that are included in the two monuments.

From there, it was on to Butler Wash, where the group hiked to the Butler Wash Ruins.  Several members of the group also completed a hike to the Target Ruin.

The group then traveled to Edge of Cedars State Park / Museum in Blanding for a press conference and to meet with local officials.  (See separate story).

On Friday, April 9, the group traveled to Kane County on the State of Utah airplane to briefly visit the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and meet with local officials.  Senator Mike Lee and Representatives Burgess Owens and Chris Stewart participated in the meetings in Kane County.

The two national monuments were established by Democrat Presidents, who used the 1906 Antiquities Act to give national monument status to millions of acres of public land in southeast and south-central Utah. In 2017, President Trump dramatically reduced the boundaries of the monuments.

On his first day in office, President Biden ordered a review of the boundaries. Haaland, who was confirmed as Interior Secretary less than four weeks ago, has made the visit her first order of business.

A Secretary of the Interior has visited San Juan County for the past three presidential administrations, following a 2016 visit by Sally Jewell of the Obama Administration, and a 2017 visit by Ryan Zinke of the Trump Administration.

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