Bears Ears

The 2019 Bears Ears Summer Gathering begins on Friday, July 19. [Photo courtesy of Amos Zerah]

This weekend, Utah Diné Bikéyah is inviting the Native American public to celebrate the Indigenous cultures of the Bears Ears region during its 5th annual Bears Ears Summer Gathering, with a focus on Pueblo culture.

Utah Diné Bikéyah said the three-day camp-out begins on Friday, July 19, at noon, and concludes on Sunday, July 21, at noon. The site of this year’s Bears Ears Summer Gathering is at the Kigalia Guard Station in Bears Ears National Monument.

In Utah, Pueblo cultures and history are frequently erased, Utah Diné Bikéyah said in a press release on July 16. But many Pueblo people lived in what is now Utah for thousands of years, and continue renewing their spiritual connections to their ancestors and the land. Their traditional knowledge is central to the future management of Bears Ears National Monument. 

This summer, the celebration will honor Pueblo relatives — the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico, the Hopi Tribe in Arizona, and the Ysleta del Sur in Texas — whose strong ties to Bears Ears stretch back into the last Ice Age.

“We are inviting tribal nations, Indigenous peoples to the Bears Ears Summer Gathering, which is a celebration of unity and return to our sacred landscape,” Utah Diné Bikéyah Pueblo Community Outreach Coordinator Ahjani Yepa (Jemez Pueblo) said. “This summer, we are focusing on Pueblo culture.”

Yepa added that, even though the focus is on Pueblo culture, Utah Diné Bikéyah (UDB) also celebrates the Diné, Ute and other Indigenous cultures during the Bears Ears Summer Gathering.

“This is an opportunity for all of our cultures to share cultural knowledge, languages, dances, and prayers … This is one avenue of spiritual defense of this sacred space,” Yepa said.

The 2019 Bears Ears Summer Gathering agenda officially starts on Friday, July 19, with Diné Day. The day begins with a Sunrise Ceremony, and at 10:30 a.m. a media and cultural sensitivity training, which is mandatory for all media in attendance.

At about noon, San Juan County commissioners Kenneth Maryboy and Willie Grayeyes (Diné) will open the agenda. This day also features Diné poet and highly acclaimed Kinsale Houston, of Naatsis’áán, Utah; Mr. Navajo Zachariah George, of Whiterock, New Mexico.; cultural workshops with Diné weaver Mark Deschinny and storyteller Raymond Redhouse; and a plant walk by TJ Redhouse.

Diné Day concludes with Bears Ears updates from UDB board member Mark Maryboy, the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, and flute playing by Ute Mountain Ute tribal member Aldean Ketchum.

On Saturday, Pueblo Day, programming starts as early as the sun rises with the Oljato Veterans Group posting the colors.

In the morning, elders from San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico, will lead a workshop on Pueblo pottery. Following this presentation, Red Willow Farm, of Taos Pueblo, New Mexico, will lead a workshop on food sovereignty.

In the afternoon, women from Tewa Women United will talk about environmental health and reproductive justice, with flute player Marlon Magdalena (Jemez Pueblo) offering some lessons in the afternoon. At about 2 p.m., UDB’s Kevin Madalena (Jemez Pueblo) will lead an Indigenous science/dinosaur talk and walk with Native youth.

Near the end of the Pueblo Day, traditional Indigenous games will start the evening program, along with Pueblo dancing by the Oak Canyon Dancers. At the end of this day, a Pueblo Feast Dance and Pueblo Throw, as well as a plant walk by the Three Sisters Collective, and story by Waya, of Acoma Pueblo, will conclude Pueblo Day.

“Indigenous games area really a good way to have our Native youth learn about our culture, languages, as well as inspiring us to maintain good physical health by having a strong body,” Yepa added.

On Sunday, or Ute/Inter-Tribal Day, Malcolm Lehi (Ute Mountain Ute), a UDB board member, will lead the morning prayer.

After Lehi’s prayer, the Bears Ears Summer Gathering Fun Run 10k/5k will commence for most of the morning. Following the morning run, Tommy Rock (Diné) will talk about the impacts and legacy of uranium in the Bears Ears region, among other programming this day. At about noon, the Bears Ears Summer Gathering will close with a light lunch by the Indigenous Healing Kitchen and a closing ceremony by the Oljato Veterans.

On each day of the three-day summer camp-out, the Indigenous Healing Kitchen will serve pre-contact dishes prepared by Indigenous food activists Karlos Baca (Diné/Nuche/Tewa), Josh Nez (Diné), Frankie Peralto (Diné) and Dinéh Tohe (Diné). This year, the Skull Valley Band of Goshutes donated a bison for the Bears Ears Summer Gathering. The food activists, all of which are part of the I-Collective, will prepare the bison with the Indigenous food knowledge they learned from their matriarchs.

“UDB Traditional Foods Program will be featuring Indigenous food activists of the I-Collective team, who will be preparing lunch and dinner focused on cultural foods that originate from our ancestral landscape,” said Cynthia Wilson (Diné), UDB’s Traditional Foods Program Director. “Join us at the Indigenous Healing Kitchen in gratitude to feed your heart, mind and soul for strength, nourishment and balance of our ancestral teachings.”

Davis Filfred (Diné), UDB board chairman, said the annual Bears Ears Summer Gathering is a time for the Indigenous cultures of Bears Ears to connect with the living, cultural landscape. 

Escaping the desert heat to the high country of Bears Ears is a seasonal tradition, Filfred said.

“Way back, our people used to migrate into Bears Ears for the summer, and to keep that tradition alive, let us all move to the Bears Ears Summer Gathering for the weekend to celebrate our physical and spiritual connections to the land that we all come from,” Filfred said.

Utah Diné Bikéyah shared this press release on July 16.