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Utah's Indigenous Community Plans Summer Gathering At Bears Ears NM

Utah Native Americans At The 2016 Summer Gathering
Tim Peterson
Utah's Indigenous Population Attends The 2016 Summer Gathering

A Utah indigenous grassroots organization will host its fourth annual summer gathering at Bears Ears National Monument at the end of July. Utah Diné Bikéyah is involved in ongoing battles to conserve cultural lands.

“It’s about all our nations coming together," said UDB Director of Operations Davina Smith. "Sharing our knowledge, sharing our language, sharing our culture, sharing the food, celebrating.”

Mary Benally is a UDB board member and said Bears Ears is much more than a national monument for Utah’s indigenous community.

“That’s home. No matter where we go for school or for work, that’s still home. And we always come back.”

Historically, it has been sacred territory Native Americans have fought to retain.

“To us," Benally said, "using the landscape and what it has meant to the Native Americans, we can use this to move forward. Leave all the historical traumas and the conflicts between the tribes. Let’s get over that and move forward and live in peace. Let’s conserve this landscape around Bears Ears for all walks of life - not only for the natives. Let’s do it because this is a healing place.”

"We are still litigating," said Alastair Lee Bitsoi, UBD's communications director. "We’re still fighting and we are healing on that front. We are collectively using our ceremonies, using lawyers, and using other strategies to overcome and prevail in re-designating Bears Ears’ boundary.”

Though the gathering is open to the public, non-native attendees are encouraged to RSVP as volunteers, rather than spectators.

“Don’t come to Bears Ears as a stereotypical tourist," Bitsoi said. "Maybe feel the earth, touch the ground. Those are things that make this place so special. Go in there with reverence, go in there with respect. Breathe in the air. Take off your shoe. Feel the dirt."