Guest Post: Indigenous Voices from San Juan Discuss Bears Ears at the Charles Redd Center

By April 2, 2018

Shí éí Bilagáanaa nishli dóó Kinyaa?áanii báshíshchíín. Bilagáanaa dashicheii dóó Tsinaajinii dashinálí. Ákót?éego asdzáá nishli. I am white and born for the Towering House Clan. My maternal grandfather was white and my paternal grandfather was of the Black-streaked Woods People Clan. In this way, I am a woman.

My name is Farina King. I am Assistant Professor of History and an affiliate of the Cherokee and Indigenous Studies Department at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

I am primarily writing to spread the news about an upcoming event, related to questions about monuments and the ongoing issues concerning Bears Ears, that I have been helping to organize with the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies at BYU.

The Redd Center will host a special panel at BYU on April 5 at 7 pm in the B092 JFSB on campus, which features diverse Native American voices and perspectives of Bears Ears from San Juan County, Utah. 

Bears Ears refers to the contested lands, which were recently designated and reduced as a national monument. The panelists include Dine’ and White Mesa Ute community members and scholars with various backgrounds and expertise, who each have understood and related directly to Bears Ears as home. They will speak from individual experiences and insights.

I will be co-moderating the panel with Nizhone Meza, Esquire and BYU Law School Alumna. For your information, I have also included brief bios of the panelists at the end of this piece. I am happy to talk about this event, although I speak as myself (an individual) and NOT as a BYU representative in any way.

In this piece, I want to share some background to how I became involved with this panel and why it matters to me.

I must admit that I did not know about Bears Ears (Shash Jaa?) until I was an adult. I am a citizen of the Navajo Nation. Although I grew up mostly in Maryland, my homeland and the land where my ancestors are buried remains the ancestral lands of Navajos and Indigenous peoples who have dwelled in the Four Corners Region since time immemorial. Part of the reasons that I have not learned Navajo oral traditions and history as a child is the intentional oversight and erasure of Indigenous historical experiences and histories. My father and almost all my Navajo relatives attended boarding schools and other school programs that belittled and suppressed their culture and family ties that are essential to Navajo identity and peoplehood. Yet, the resilience and perseverance of Indigenous peoples like my Navajo family is remarkable. Despite being punished for speaking Navajo and pressured to assimilate and forget our Navajo identity, my elders have taught me that I am Navajo. And being Navajo is being connected to our homelands and keeping our reciprocity with the earth. We care for the lands, which embody our archives, histories, and peoplehood. For so long, we have been fed the lie that we had no history before Europeans came?the lie that only written history is history. History lives in the land through the oral traditions and connections that our ancestors have developed and what we continue to develop with the earth. I was taught my clans (which I introduced at the beginning of this piece), and they are intertwined with the earth such as the ?Black-Streaked Woods People.?

I am coming to know Shash Jaa? (Bears Ears) now. I bring my children there and have started the process of reconnecting with homelands, learning more gradually with them. I pray that we continue learning with our grandchildren and their children and so on, as we recognize Bears Ears and the lands as sacred spaces.

As a Latter-day Saint Navajo, I have become concerned with the binary drawn between white Mormons and Navajos in San Juan County, southeastern Utah. White Mormons are often associated there with the settler colonizers who dispossessed and continue to attempt erasing Indigenous presence and connections to lands that they have claimed. On the other hand, Native Americans are stereotyped as romanticized environmentalists who live as one with nature. The intricacies and complexities of San Juan County resident identities, Native and non-Native American, are commonly overlooked or misunderstood. Mormon Native Americans are often caught in the crossfire, somewhere in the middle of such dichotomies. Some Native American Mormons align themselves with fellow (non-Native) Mormons by sustaining the lawmakers and predominately white church and state authorities in southeastern Utah. Some Native American Mormons try to avoid the politics altogether, while others openly support recognizing the sacredness of the lands and not treating them as sites only to be torn apart for energy resources. I have become involved in dialogues such as the upcoming panel, because I know and respect people?both Mormon and non-Mormon? from the region of the Bears Ears National Monument as friends and family. I also recognize Bears Ears as a sacred place, not only to my ancestors but to my people today.

Latter-day Saints are taught to love one another and show tolerance toward different faiths and peoples. To what extent, do Latter-day Saints (Native American and non-Native American) follow these teachings in relation to those who practice ceremonies and regard areas of Bears Ears as their temples? To many Indigenous peoples, Bears Ears is holy ground, marked with shrines and ceremonies.

This panel illuminates that not all Native Americans relate to and understand Bears Ears in the same ways. This panel consists of individuals from different backgrounds, trainings, experiences, and viewpoints who are willing to share their stories and insights about their homelands at the same table.

I have been involved in organizing panels and forums before that bring together “both sides” of controversial issues such as the Dakota Access Pipeline debates, which foster vital discourse. It is also important to dedicate space and time to focus on Indigenous voices and perspectives in depth, especially considering how such voices have been marginalized and often excluded from academic settings. For the Bears Ears case, there are many diverse voices and perspectives, which the binaries of Indigenous and non-Indigenous cannot encapsulate. There could be a series of panels and conferences devoted to assessing and discussing the Bears Ears National Monument. This single panel does not pretend to pursue such a feat, but it encourages conversations and efforts to continue.

Considering diverse viewpoints of Bears Ears, there are not only different perspectives within tribal nations but also between tribal nations and diverse non-Native communities such as environmentalists, companies in outdoor industries, and San Juan County residents (both Native and non-Native Americans). One day, I would like to help organize a panel that primarily addresses how different religious views and backgrounds (including Mormonism) influence people’s relation to the Bears Ears Monument over time.

In conclusion, I wish to express my gratitude to the Redd Center for hosting this upcoming panel, ?Bears Ears: Indigenous Perspectives from San Juan,? and I commend their great works and services. Please share the attached flyer and information about the panel! I hope to see you at the panel on Thursday, April 5!

Thursday, April 5, 7 pm, B092 JFSB, Brigham Young University, Provo

Featured Panelists

  • Angelo Baca, New York University and Utah Dine’ Bike’yah?filmmaker of Shash Jaa?

Angelo Baca, Native American filmmaker, Navajo and Hopi, works on educational films, fiction and non-fiction. He is a doctoral candidate in Sociocultural Anthropology at New York University. He currently serves as the Cultural Resources Coordinator for Utah Dine’ Bikeyah.

  • Byron Clarke, Blue Mountain Dine’

Byron Clarke is a volunteer board member and Vice President of the Blue Mountain Dine’, a community group in Blanding. He is the Chief Operating Officer for Utah Navajo Health System (UNHS), Inc. After receiving two Bachelor?s Degrees from Utah State University, in French and Economics, Clarke later earned a Law Degree from the William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

  • Mary Jane Yazzie, White Mesa Ute

Mary Jane Yazzie is a board member of Utah Dine’ Bikeyah, representing the White Mesa Community, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. She has collaborated with scholars on various studies and publications about White Mesa Utes. She has also served as chairperson of an independent White Mesa governing board.

  • Marie and Garry Holiday, Oljato Chapter Community

Marie and Garry Holiday both come from the Monument Valley region and have served the Navajo communities there through various roles including chapter leadership positions. Garry Holiday was the former Oljato Chapter president, and he is a BYU alumnus.

  • Tommy Rock, D., Northern Arizona University (originally from San Juan County)

Dr. Tommy Rock is a citizen of the Navajo Nation from Monument Valley, Utah. His clans are the Salt clan, born for the Many Goats clan. His maternal grandfather?s clan is the Bitter Water clan. His paternal grandfather?s clan is the Reed People clan. He founded Rock Environmental Consulting in Arizona and recently completed his doctoral degree in the School of Earth Science and Environmental Sustainability at Northern Arizona University.

  • Aldean Ketchum, White Mesa Ute

Aldean Ketchum, a Ute from White Mesa, is well-known throughout the Southwest for his skills in building and playing native flutes as well as storytelling. Ketchum performs on his flutes with symphonies and opera companies around the world. In 2002, he appeared in the Olympic opening ceremony in Salt Lake City.


Farina King, PhD, Northeastern State University Assistant Professor of History

Nizhone Meza, Esquire, BYU J. Reuben Clark Law School alumna

Article filed under Announcements and Events


  1. Thanks, Farina. This is an important contemporary issue that is shaped by the past. I’m pleased to see that you were able to put together such an important slate of panelists.

    Comment by David G. — April 2, 2018 @ 5:06 pm


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