MESA Chair’s Letter to Secretary of Interior designee Ryan Zinke
February 9, 2017
Dear Hon. Zinke, Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer, Speaker Ryan, and Leader Pelosi:
I am writing on behalf of Mormon Environmental Stewardship Alliance (AKA: “MESA”), a 501-c3 non-profit registered in Utah which I chair. MESA represents the views of LDS Church members and followers in Utah and across the nation. We connect with thousands of members & followers primarily through our website and social media. On behalf of MESA, I ask you to uphold the designation of the new Bears Ears National Monument. We do not support its repeal or any boundary adjustments.
Bears Ears is special to LDS heritage. Mormons first traveled to the Bears Ears region in the late 19th century. The San Juan Mission expedition sought to establish a new settlement in what we now know as Bluff, Utah. The pioneers were responding to the plan of President Brigham Young, who had called on Mormons to establish communities throughout the West. They traveled in December of 1879, and as they progressed through the region, snow made it impossible for the company of approximately 80 wagons holding nearly 250 men, women, and children, along with hundreds of cattle, to turn back. Together, they braved the rugged terrain, but slick rock slopes through canyon lands seemed impassable for the wagons. In a testament to their God-given determination, the settlers dug and shaped the earth to allow passage, all the while singing a hymn in the cold winter air, “The Spirit of God Like A Fire Is Burning”. They smoothed sections of the rock surface and built dugways along their route. Carved rock inscriptions, trails, corrals, and cabins give us insight into the lives of prospectors, ranchers, and early archeologists. These features are still visible today as signs of their journey. Today, we can walk their path to remember the determination and faith of our LDS community’s spiritual ancestors.
Furthermore, our LDS faith guides us to respect the belief practices of other cultures, especially those closest to us. We intuitively understand that they hold their faith histories to be sacred, just as we do ours. And although MESA isn’t representing any official church position in this letter, we do believe that what we assert in this letter represents the view of hundreds of thousands of LDS people in Utah alone, not to mention the vast numbers residing in other states.
Given the degradation of over one hundred thousand sacred ancestral dwellings & artifacts of the five tribes of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, and given our nation’s history of broken treaties with these tribes, the extermination raids, the collective trauma from 53 forced marches of the Dine during the years of the Long Walk, and the decades of brutal acculturation methods imposed by our institutions, it is imperative that their ancestral lands continue to be protected as a national monument under the advice of the tribes of the Bears Ears region.
Lastly, MESA proclaims that educated LDS people understand that scientific data is overwhelming and significant on the issue of global climate change, and that they desire policies that seek environmental justice for all our fellow beings . We share a reverence for our earthly home and all of God’s creations. We are aware of the many LDS scriptures that admonish us to be good stewards over the earth and protect the purity of our air, water and soil.
For these reasons, on behalf of the members and supporters of MESA, valuing justice, good stewardship of land, water and air, and valuing the sacred cultural lands of our Native brothers & sisters– ask you to respect our desire, as well as the desire of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition and 30 other major tribes across our nation, to support the new Bears Ears National Monument. Please uphold its designation and refrain from any repeal or boundary adjustment. We are thrilled that this spectacular & sacred land of the Bears Ears region will be protected for future generations!
With gratitude & highest regard
Ty Markham, Chair, MESA Executive Board
Cc: Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Rep. Rob Bishop, Rep. Chris Stewart, Sen. Orrin Hatch, Sen. Mike Lee