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Inter-Tribal Group Seeks Bears Ears Protection

A coalition of Native American tribes is calling on the Obama administration to designate the Bears Ears region of southern Utah as a national monument.

The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition is seeking to protect the area, which the coalition said has significant cultural and historic meaning.

The coalition includes the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni and Ute Indian Tribe.

Carlton Bowekaty, a councilman with the Pueblo of Zuni, said the area was home to many of the tribe's ancestors.

"The reason why these areas are so important to us is that it allows us to reconnect to our history," he explained. "Our history is passed orally, and a lot of our prayers and history comes through in certain terms we don't always understand."

The region contains massive red rock canyons, high mesas, and more than 100,000 Native American archaeological and cultural sites.

However, Bowekaty said it remains largely unprotected and is threatened by looting and off-road vehicle damage.

The coalition's effort took a major step toward its goal this week when Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced she would visit Bears Ears and confer with tribes and local citizens about its importance.

Bowekaty said his Zuni tribe feels the coalition is key to the area becoming a national monument.

"We definitely feel that we have a connection that extends beyond our reservation and, in partnering with the other tribes, this is one of those moments where the tribes can extend that handshake across reservation lines for the greater good of our people," he stressed.

In addition, Davis Filfred, a Navajo Nation Council delegate from Utah, said the Bears Ears effort is unanimously supported by the Navajo Nation Council, and has overwhelming support from grassroots Navajo people and Navajo Chapters in Utah.