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Native Americans React To Cuts To Bears Ears National Monument


And we're going to hear now from Shaun Chapoose of the Ute Indian tribe in Utah. He's one of the people who advocated for Bears Ears to become a national monument. The land earned that designation in 2016 just before President Obama left office. I asked Chapoose to describe the land.

SHAUN CHAPOOSE: Bears Ears is a unique area for the simple fact is it's a lot of high plateaus, slot canyons. It has a desert environment on one section. Yet you can drive up higher, and you're into an alpine area where it's nothing but trees, lush meadows. And it's littered with cultural artifacts. It's like walking into a museum. Let's put it that way.

KELLY: I wonder if you'd also tell us what it sounds like. There's a line I can't get out of my head from the document - the Obama administration document that created the national monument. And it describes Bears Ears as having - and I'll quote - "the rare and arresting quality of deafening silence."

CHAPOOSE: Imagine you're out, and you're in an area that's never been touched, where it's so quiet you could hear a bird flutter. You could hear squirrels chirping. But your views aren't disrupted by modern lights or nothing. You are really connected with the natural world. That's a way to describe Bears Ears. The stars look like you could reach up and touch them. You can sense the calm when you're there. You just know you're someplace that is special.

KELLY: Why is this particular land of such significance for the Indian nations in Utah?

CHAPOOSE: Well, the first thing is it's like a snapshot of history. There's remnants of all the tribes that have been in that region throughout the history of the United States. You have cliff dwellings. You have greeneries. You have - I mean, there's burial grounds. There's pottery. There's ceremonial locations. And they still utilize the land for a lot of the medicinal herbs and the plants that are still used today in the culture.

KELLY: Well, what is your fear now? I mean, what are the implications as you see them for this land if the size of the monument shrinks?

CHAPOOSE: What I'm afraid's going to happen is every pot hunter, every grave robber, every artifact person that's trying to make a buck will basically inunduate (ph) the place and dig up what's left.

KELLY: This is Native American artifacts that are within the monument grounds.

CHAPOOSE: Yes, yep.


CHAPOOSE: Yep. They'll destroy irreplaceable pieces of history. And I'm afraid that, you know, they'll try to speed up the process to do fuel development as far as fossil fuels without following legal process. And that always leads to disaster.

KELLY: So what happens next? I gather a lawsuit is in the works.

CHAPOOSE: Well, yeah. We feel that the designation was done legally and should stand. And nothing in the Antiquities Act gives a president the authority to do what he's attempting to do. So we'll challenge him legally.

KELLY: Although it was a president's authority that made it a national monument in the first place under President Obama.

CHAPOOSE: Well, yeah. But that's why they need to read the authority of the Antiquities Act. It gives the president that authority. Nowhere in the document says it gives another president the authority to undo it. And that'll be the challenge.

KELLY: That was Shaun Chapoose of the Ute Indian tribe. He's a tribal commissioner for Bears Ears National Monument. Mr. Chapoose, thank you.

CHAPOOSE: You bet. You have a good day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.