In late 2016, President Barack Obama designated 1.35 million acres of land in San Juan County, Utah as Bears Ears National Monument. On December 4, 2017 President Donald Trump chose to shrink the monument by 85 percent. Rich in human history and unsurpassed in natural beauty, Bears Ears is at the heart of a national debate over the future of public lands.
In a pair of complementary books, Voices from Bears Ears: Seeking Common Ground on Sacred Land and Bears Ears: Views from a Sacred Land writer Rebecca Robinson and photographer Stephen Strom capture the passions of those on opposing sides of the Bears Ears battle. The books give voice to those who have historically felt silenced, ignored, or disrespected. They share stories of those who celebrate a growing movement by indigenous peoples to protect ancestral lands and culture and those who speak devotedly about their pioneer heritage and the deeply held religious beliefs that connect them to the land.
In Voices from Bears Ears: Seeking Common Ground on Sacred Land, through the voices of individuals and photographs of the landscape, they tell the story of a unique place with an exceptional history, and the people who call it home.
An accompanying book, Bears Ears: Views from a Sacred Land, adds to the photographic exploration of Bears Ears National Monument with subtle and nuanced examination of the landscape from expansive aerial images to textural studies of sandstone surfaces.
The story of Bears Ears speaks to the cultural cross-currents that roil our times: the struggle to maintain tradition and culture in the face of a rapidly changing world, the lines we draw to define and defend what is ours, the ties that bind us together, and the fear that threatens to tear us apart. It is a story of the pain of past injustices, and the efforts to heal age-old wounds to create a shared future.
Native American tribes seek to protect culturally and spiritually significant ancestral lands; a coalition of conservation-minded citizens and organizations have supported them. Those who oppose the monument see a "federal land grab" that threatens to rob local people of an economic future by limiting income from ranching and mining. What unites these individuals is a reverence for a homeland that defines their cultural and spiritual identity. Therein lies hope for finding common ground.
above: a sampling of the more than 70 individuals whose voices inform the discussion in Bears Ears Country.
Interwoven with these stories are images that reveal the rugged beauty of Bears Ears country: a landscape of endless ridges, buttes, mesas and canyons, sculpted and painted by water and wind. Together, the voices and the photographs tell a remarkable story of the connection between individuals and cultures and the land which is inseparable from their experience of life itself.