Pueblo youth are at the forefront of protecting Indigenous lands

Pueblo youth are at the forefront of protecting Indigenous lands
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Pueblo people are the direct descendants of Bears Ears, Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde therefore, it is within our cultural interest to protect these sacred landscapes. 

Under the Obama administration, Bears Ears was designated as a national monument, a cultural classification under the Antiquities Act. The advocacy for protecting Bears Ears was led by Indigenous nations with a historical and cultural stake in how the landscape is managed. These actions for land protections were motivated by ensuring stricter environmental rules and preserving the cultural and spiritual relationship that Southwest Indigenous people have to the landscape.  

Mainstream conservation groups and large environmental organizations tend to center their efforts to protect public lands around environmental impacts or places to recreate. Many other organizations working in the Four Corners region fight against further expansion of the Department of Interior’s (DOI) federal fossil fuel leasing program. While most of these fights are valid, Indigenous perspectives historically have been left out of the narrative. But for Indigenous peoples of the United States, cultural landscapes like Bears Ears, Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon are interconnected regions that create a larger region that carries ancestral and traditional ecological knowledge left to us by our ancestors. Therefore, these regions are the ancestral territories of the Pueblo, Diné (Navajo Nation), Hopi and Ute nations, and their policy recommendations must lead efforts to restore Bears Ears and other cultural landscape designations.    


Across the globe, Indigenous groups are one of the largest populations of people who are actively, spiritually and civically protecting landscapes that encompass natural biodiversity, sacred importance and cultural resources. Therefore, the Indigenous worldview has been actively working to create solutions to address the climate crisis. The Bears Ears Inter-tribal Coalition, consisting of Hopi Tribe, Diné Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, and Ute Indian Tribe, founded in July 2015, have centered their advocacy around protecting their cultural resources and integrity that lies within the landscape. Many Indigenous nations have given their resolutions to support the designation of Bears Ears as a national monument; this is a collective example of Indigenous nations aligning together for places like Bears Ears to be protected for future generations and the continuation of Indigenous culture. They are further proving that Indigenous nations are at the forefront of protecting 80 percent of our Earth Mother’s biodiversity.  

This has also been a crucial act of solidarity and an example that Indigenous nations should have the full right to exercise their inherent sovereignty and autonomy to build nation to nation alliances to protect cultural landscapes. While ancestral sites are important for the preservation of Indigenous peoples’ history, these places are still being actively occupied for ceremonies and prayers. The discretion of these sites directly impacts the cultural integrity and preservation of who we are as descendants of these places. Pueblo youth and young people wish to continue the fight to protect our ancestral places and enable our own access to the land.   

Deb HaalandDeb HaalandManchin presses Interior nominee on leasing program review Interior reverses Trump, moves BLM headquarters back to DC Harris in Shanksville honors heroism, courage of Flight 93 passengers MORE, the secretary of Interior and a member of the Pueblo Tribe, is DOI’s first Indigenous Pueblo woman to occupy that seat. Her existing relationships with Indigenous leaders and her own Pueblo ties to cultural landscapes like Bears Ears and Chaco Canyon resulted in a recommendation for restoring Bears Ears and others like Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments. The Biden administration must not only take the recommendation from DOI to restore Bears Ears, but it must take recommendations from the sovereign nations and Indigenous groups. Indigenous youth should have access to the stories of Bears Ears and the places where their ancestors lived and thrived. We have the inherent birthright to enjoy our ancestral homelands without interference. President BidenJoe BidenUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Schumer moves to break GOP blockade on Biden's State picks GOP Rep. Cawthorn likens vaccine mandates to 'modern-day segregation' MORE must restore Bears Ears.   

Julia Fay Bernal is the executive director of the Pueblo Action Alliance.