On Bears Ears
In February 2018, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance invited me to speak on behalf of Bears Ears National Monument during a protest in downtown Salt Lake. Here, you'll find a slightly modified version of those remarks, and a quick and dirty guide to taking action in defense of our public lands.
When I was little, my parents would take me and my brother down the twisty slickrock canyons of Grand-Staircase and Bears Ears, and when we got bored they’d hand us a water bottle and some M&Ms and just walk away. I remember building tiny towers out of sandstone cobbles, playing pretend games with Jake for long, sweet, stretches of time until they came back.
After college, I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic. I brought photos from home to share with my Dominican neighbors— and they weren’t photos of the Empire State building, or even the Salt Lake Temple, the turreted and angel-topped castle that marks the heart of downtown. No, I brought pictures of the desert, of the wild places that make up Bears Ears, and I remember watching my neighbor gaze at a photo— blue sky above, red rock below— and slowly rotate it upside down, trying to make sense of this totally improbable landscape.
I’m a rock climber, and I took my first trip to Indian Creek this winter. After a lifetime of gazing up at sweeping Wingate walls, it’s pretty wild to actually go inside them— up to my knuckles, or my wrists, or, occasionally, my elbows, pressing my face against the cool surface of the rock, feeling the soft grit against my skin. It’s a new way to know and love this landscape, a new way to let it teach me things about myself.
Bears Ears has made me who I am— those places hold so many stories for me, moments of joy and absurdity and humbleness. But for the native community, Bears Ears isn’t just a playground— it’s their ancestral home, canyons and mesas that have defined who they are since before the first person who looked like me wandered into this place and decided it was theirs for the taking.
I’m white, and my people have a long history of violence and disrespect towards the native community. The reduction of Bears Ears National Monument is just one more chapter in this sickeningly long saga. But there’s a choice to be made, here, and an opportunity to decide who we want to be.
We could be complicit, sit back, and let Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke take away wild places that we can never recover-- or, we can strive to be better. We can take my stories, and your stories, of joy and play and exploration, and let that energy feed us as we stand with the tribes, in outrage and in solidarity.
Bears Ears isn’t going anywhere, and neither are we.