Publication Date

April 2019


J. Kehaulani Kauanui


American Studies (AMST)


English (United States)


In 2015, in a historic coalition, five Native American tribes submitted a proposal to President Obama for federal protection of over 1 million acres of the greater Bears Ears area: a culturally significant, ecologically rich, and profoundly sacred landscape located in southeastern Utah. The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition is composed of representatives from the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, and the Pueblo of Zuni. In 2016, during the last month of his presidency, Obama designated Bears Ears National Monument, and with the designation came protection of thousands of ancient Native American village sites, artifacts, trails, and sites of spiritual significance. In 2017, however, as part of what was the largest federal rollback of protected lands in United States history, President Trump reduced the size of Bears Ears National Monument by a drastic 85%. Currently, due to these rollbacks, the region is once again under the constant threat of environmental and cultural desecration, including oil and gas drilling, uranium mining, and illegal looting of artifacts. This thesis is an exploration of the past, present, and future of Bears Ears as it intersects with conventional paradigms of environmentalist practice, the historical and contemporary disenfranchisement of Native peoples, and indigenous resistance to settler colonial structures of domination.

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