Group rallies at State Capitol against designation of Bears Ears national monument

Posted at 9:29 PM, May 17, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-17 23:29:59-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Anna Tom has spent a lifetime learning the art of being a Navajo medicine woman from her mother.

"Some of these plants will be, like when the wind takes it away, you'll have a certain amount of years that you'll see that plant again,” she said Tuesday afternoon, talking about herbs collected to treat everything from aches and pains to cancer.

Tom and her mom are worried their sacred traditions could be threatened. The Bears Ears Buttes area, where she collects plants, could be designated a National Monument by the Obama administration, limiting some activities on the land.

"We treasure it because of our traditional ways of life,” Tom said.

Gov. Gary Herbert supports Tom and other members of the Navajo Nation calling on President Obama to put the brakes on designation.

The governor said President Obama has promised not to act without local support.

"I don't see really anybody in San Juan County that's buying into this issue,” Herbert said during a rally Tuesday at the state capitol.

One key figure from southern Utah is backing designation, Navajo Nation president Russell Begaye.

In a letter to President Obama he wrote in part:

"The Navajo Nation respectfully requests that 1.9 million acres of federal public lands around the Bears Ears Buttes (Shash Jaa') in southeastern Utah be designated a national monument…"

Utah already has five national parks. If approved, Bears Ears would become the eighth national monument. It’s roughly 1.9 million acres of land, an area bigger than Rhode Island.

"They're lands we want our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren to enjoy,” said Utah House Minority Leader Brian King.

King favors designation, saying polls have shown clear support. He believes with designation, the sacred cultural practices of the Native Americans will be protected.

"My understanding is that those kind uses of the land that don't harm the land in a permanent way are going to be continued,” King said.

The Utah legislature is expected to pass a resolution opposing designation Wednesday afternoon.