The Fight is Not Over
If you follow the controversy regarding the recently designated Bears Ears National Monument, you know the fight is not over. Local and state leaders are angry about the designation and say they are going to ask President-elect Donald Trump to repeal the monument. Meanwhile, land conservation groups are celebrating, saying they will continue the fight to protect the land. A common refrain from the victors is that the community needs to come together now to embrace the monument.
Before I weigh in on my opinion about that, let me introduce myself. My name is MariAnell Glover Barton, but most people in Blanding know me as Nan. I grew up here and have lived most of my adult life here. Yes, I am one of those dreaded women from Blanding.
(By the way, the woman they are talking about in this video is from the town of Monticello. Her name is Kim Henderson, and she also shares a passion for protecting the land.)
My last name is the same as that of the earliest white Mormon settlers in Bluff. But that is not my heritage; rather, it is that of my husband and children. I have no official historic ties to the land here. Why does that matter, you might ask?
A Little About Heritage
I would like to share a little about my heritage, about the communities in San Juan County, and how people can come together about issues that matter. This is my father, Worthy Glover.
He moved with his wife and two young children over forty years ago to a tiny town in Utah to be near the Navajo people he loved. A few years before, my father had served a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Southwest Indian Mission. On that mission, he learned the Navajo language, which he still uses often today.
My father spent the next forty years working with the Native American people in the area in various capacities. While I was very young my parents ran a group home for young men from the Navajo reservation. My father also worked with the Navajo people as part of a non-profit trying to create increase economic opportunities for the Diné. My father recently retired from a position working with mostly Native American adults with disabilities. He always went beyond what was required of him, helping and serving the people he loved. My father also participated in church activities that often took him to distant parts of the reservation. As a young girl, I sometimes got to go with him. I remember how often we were greeted with looks of suspicion and distrust. Then my dad would tell a joke in Navajo, and our new friends would laugh and welcome us into their circle.
My parents moved to this little community and they saw a need. They did not try to impose their ideologies on the people they met. Rather, they got to know them and to love them. Through serving the people here, particularly Native American people, they have been able to identify needs and help to meet those needs.
A Pioneer in Education
Another part of my heritage came about because of my marriage to my husband. But I am not going to address the pioneer heritage in Bluff. Instead, I would like to talk about a pioneer in education: my grandfather-in-law, Lynn Lee.
Many years ago, Lynn Lee decided to move his young family from Farmington, New Mexico to Blanding, Utah. What drew him here? The Elk Ridge Mountains, an area now part of the Bears Ears National Monument. Growing up, he and his brothers loved to come hunt and explore in this remote part of Utah. The times they spent here were some of his fondest memories. I will never forget the stories he shared with us, his descendants, as our extended family camped out in that remote wilderness ten years ago. The land truly is magical.
The rest of the story involves a lot more than land. Lynn Lee was actively involved in education in San Juan County for many years. One of his greatest achievements here was creating a college for the people in our remote community to attend. This included Native American people who did not have access to higher education previously.
Lynn Lee loved the land here. But more than that, he loved the people. He and others in the community saw a need and they worked together to make it happen.
The college campus in Blanding has grown immensely since it began. It is now titled USU Eastern Blanding Campus. My mother worked for that college for many years. One position she held before retiring was Vice President of administration and student services, taking over after Lee retired.
That college has been a big part of my life as well. I earned my associate degree and eventually a bachelor’s degree through the college. I worked there in student housing and as an English tutor for many years before taking a break to raise my family. I know the college is a great asset to our community, with a wonderfully diverse group of professors and staff who serve the students here.
What Does This Have to do with Coming Together?
One memory about my time on campus stands out for a different reason. I hope I can explain its correlation with the issues I referred to at the beginning of this story. When I was younger, I watched volunteers come into our community through the Vista program, which is similar to the Peace Corps. The difference is the volunteers travel within the United States instead of abroad. As an idealistic young woman, I thought this was fantastic. They were doing their part to save the world. But it didn’t always work out that way. Oftentimes, I witnessed frustration on the part of those who were being “helped” by these workers, as the perceived need and the actual need did not always line up. I witnessed a phenomenon where individuals resisted being treated like a charity case by a stranger who did not understand their real needs and concerns.
Recently, I was reminded of this when I read a viral post by a woman who explained that she would no longer participate in traveling charity trips. She called it being a “Voluntourist.” Having witnessed some of the problems with voluntourism, I truly believe we can and should strive to make the biggest difference within our own sphere of influence. I know I try to be involved in my community and provide service to those in need whenever I can.
What does this have to do with coming together? I hope it helps explain a little bit relating to the disconnect that exists, the two diverging ideologies that are so polar opposite in many ways that continually prevent any kind of coming together. If proponents of the monument truly wanted people to come together, they should have been willing to compromise about land issues. Instead, they went out of their way to ignore the local people by pushing for a monument to protect land that is already protected, a truth understood by people who live here.
There is Still a Huge Disconnect
Do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that looting and vandalism and even ATV abuse have not happened on the land. I am not saying that the local people do not want the land protected. That, above all, is something every person in this cause can agree on. We want the land to remain protected. We want the culturally significant sites to enjoy even greater protection. Of course, we question if that is at all possible now that consistent media exposure by this monument campaign has put a target on the land as the next great destination.
We want our conservation-minded neighbors not to feel excluded or neglected from our community, as some have hinted that they are. There is one universal truth I have learned through this monument campaign. It is that people who truly care about the land do not have to share the same race, political affiliation, lifestyle, or religion to come together in a cause. Through fighting against this monument, I have made amazing new friends. I love and respect all of them, though I admit I sometimes cringe at some of their political views.
Because another part of my heritage is a mother who was very involved in politics, who taught me to hold to my values while remaining open to other perspectives. As a teenager, I traveled across the United States as part of the Close-Up program to learn more about how the US Government works. I was excited and thrilled to be able to meet Jim Matheson, the Democratic Congressman for my district at the time. I respected him because he was good at working with both Democrats and Republicans. My mother had taught me the value of respecting the need for compromise.
Is there a compromise here? Is there a way these very divergent ideologies can come together? The problem is that there is still a huge disconnect. How can the people who have come into our area and imposed this designation on us expect us to embrace them when there have been zero overtures to include us in the process in the first place? We have been treated like we are stupid and selfish and we do not understand what is best for the land. When we have pointed out the flaws in the information behind the monument push, we have been repeatedly censored.
Unfortunately, we cannot battle a ceaseless media campaign that has tried to create a narrative that the land is in danger, and that the local people and the politicians are the greatest threat to it.
How Can We Overcome that Bias?
How can we overcome that bias?
Let me suggest to you how to start.
When you visit a remarkable place like the Bears Ears area and you see a need, such as protecting the land, get to know the people in the communities nearby. Do not move to the area because you love the surrounding countryside and then consistently work against the interests of the local people to accomplish your grander scheme. Do not mock others who believe in responsible stewardship through ranching and other land uses. Do not disdain people who have a different educational background. Do not romanticize an entire race of people and treat them and the land like a charity. Do not rock climb into sacred sites and hold archeological objects while crying for the need to protect those very things you are not supposed to be touching.
Do not talk about protection while offering only restrictions that will add no more protection than what already exists in the area.
Trump the monument.