Environews, Minis

A monumental mess: Indigenous action

By Amy Brunvand
Bear totem by Jewell James, Master carver, Lummi Nation

In July the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition received the gift of a bear totem pole from the Lummi Nation in the Pacific Northwest. The nine-foot-tall totem was made by master carver Jewell James and other artists from House of Tears Carvers.

James is a long-time champion of salmon preservation and indigenous fishing rights. In 2013, he organized a totem pole journey, carrying a symbolic totem 1,700 miles along coal train rail lines to protest a proposed coal terminal near Bellingham, Washington that threatened tribal fisheries. Since then, a totem pole journey has been held every year to protect sacred lands and waters.

The tribes eventually won their fight against the coal port. In 2016 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rejected the permit in order to protect indigenous treaty rights (a decision the developer called “inconceivable”).  After President Trump shrank Bears Ears National Monument, James says that bears were seen in Lummi Village for the first time in many years and they became the spirit guides for a new bear totem.

The bear totem visited the Urban Indian Center in Salt Lake City on July 19, and was set up in Bears Ears Meadow to serve as a guardian during the 2018 Summer Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Gathering from July 20-22. It is currently standing in the main foyer of the Southern Ute Museum in Ignacio, Colorado where people can touch it to say prayers and receive a blessing. In April, the indigenous group Utah Diné Bikéyah appealed to the United Nations Human Rights Council calling looting and grave-robbing at Bears Ears an ongoing human rights violation. They asked that under the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples the Trump administration should wait until the legality of the monument reduction has been decided in court before producing a hasty management plan. (In 2007 the United States voted against adopting the Declaration, but President Obama endorsed it in 2010).

In August, the Utah Tribal Leaders Association issued a Joint Inter-Tribal Resolution opposing the illegal proclamation by President Trump to reduce the size of Bears Ears National Monument, again calling to halt expedited federal planning for the Bears Ears region. The resolution particularly calls to prevent front- country recreation development in the sacred Bears Ears Meadow.

This article was originally published on September 13, 2018.