Supporters of the proposed Bears Ears National Monument paint a vivid picture of ATVs running over ancient pottery, tourists etching initials into petroglyphs, and archaeologists digging up Native American burial grounds.
While there is no denying the sad reality of such activities in the past, San Juan County Navajos feel that public education campaigns and federal laws are now effective at protecting these invaluable cultural resources.
What does concern them, however, is the likelihood that a national monument designation would bring flocks of tourists to the area, putting cliff dwellings, rock art, prehistoric villages and sacred sites at risk as never before.
Federal law and public opinion have come a long way on this subject since the turn of the 20th century. The late 1800s and early 1900s saw Native American graves desecrated and ancient ruins destroyed. President Theodore Roosevelt recognized this and was instrumental in passing the first comprehensive legislation protecting our nation’s cultural resources. Since that time, public education campaigns and federal laws have evolved to prevent such travesties.
Bears Ears monument advocates say a designation would heighten the protection of the area’s cultural resources through laws and additional enforcement, but in reality it could have the opposite effect. A national monument designation does not bring with it any additional special protections. The area is already protected.