An Attack on One Sacred Place is an Attack on All Sacred Places
I just returned from a visit to the Bear’s Ears National Monument in Southern Utah in the company of twenty faith and tribal leaders. Our group undertook the journey to stand in solidarity with the indigenous tribes that have held this land sacred for millennia, and to raise a moral voice for the importance of the protection of indigenous sacred sites and public lands that are endangered by the expressed intention of the Trump Administration to diminish or eliminate many national monuments.
On our journey to Bear’s Ears, I was moved by the way that the sacred land brought our group together spiritually. Coming from many faith and spiritual backgrounds, we were united as one by the joy and renewal that the beauty of the land brought to our hearts. We stood in awe before grand, multi-colored canyons. Delight rippled through our group when we saw wild turkeys ambling through the woods and when a large buck turned his antlered head toward us and held us in his gaze. Each of us felt the healing and rejuvenating power of the land as we walked in a flourishing forest.
Each of our national monuments is a unique treasure handed down from our ancestors, a treasure that we must protect for our descendants. In the case of Bear’s Ears, five native tribes put aside past differences to work together with a unified vision to identify scores of sacred sites and then to map the traditional tribal pathways and large animal corridors that linked those sites as one ecosystem. Both Woody Lee, a Utah Diné Bikéyah leader, and Joseph Brophy Toledo, traditional leader of Jemez Pueblo, told our group that Bear’s Ears National Monument is uniquely the work of indigenous tribes to preserve their heritage, the land where they go to hunt, gather medicinal herbs and seek healing. Their work is now a gift to the American people, an awesome and beautiful expanse of land where people from every walk of life can go to be filled with the wonder of God’s Creation.
The sacred land of Bear’s Ears is now under threat. In a secret set of proposals that was later leaked to the press, Secretary of the Interior Zinke recommends diminishing numerous national monuments, including Bear’s Ears. Instead of preserving the entire complex eco-system at Bear’s Ears, Sec. Zinke seems inclined to draw circles around separate antiquity sites and preserve just these isolated locations. This misguided plan highlights exactly why it is vital to protect all of Bear’s Ears. The monument stands as a living testimony to the inter-connected nature of the natural world. The streams, forests, bears, deer, elk and mountain lions are all flourishing in Bear’s Ears because the complex web that gives them life has not been broken. This web of relations is what drew me to Bear’s Ears. What happens at Bear’s Ears happens to me, to my family, to my community. This beautiful land that is sacred to over 30 indigenous tribes is sacred to me, both because of its flourishing beauty and because an attack on one sacred site is an attack on the sanctity of all sacred sites, including the synagogue where I go to be in community, to pray and to heal. I have written to Sec. Zinke, President Trump and my congressional representatives stating that the five indigenous tribes, my own religious community and the American people need and deserve that Bear’s Ears and the other national monuments be left whole and healthy for future generations. I urge you to do the same.