Tribal Existence and Land (Part 1)

with Michael Johnson, Assistant Director of Development for the Native American Rights Fund

National National

Native Americans have a unique experience as the indigenous people of North America, retaining a devoted connection to land, generation after generation. Michael Johnson, Assistant Director of Development for the Native American Rights Fund joins Robert Traynham for a discussion on preserving tribal existence, protecting natural resources and promoting human rights for indigenous peoples. This discussion continues in part 2 of Tribal Existence and Land.

Interview recorded October 11, 2017. Hosted by Robert Traynham.

Read a partial transcript of this interview below:

Robert Traynham: Native Americans have a unique connection to specific regions across America, places where their ancestors lived, worked, and created communities, and while some of these regions contain natural resources, they also contain historical items from tribal cultures. Hello, and welcome to Comcast Newsmakers. I’m Robert Traynham. I’m joined by Michael Johnson. He’s the Assistant Director of Development for the Native American Rights Fund. Michael, welcome to the program.

Michael Johnson: Robert, thank you so much for having us. I’m really excited to be here and honored to be representing the Native American Rights Fund today.

Robert Traynham: Thank you very much for saying that. [00:00:30] I want to start off with what I mentioned a few moments ago, and that is, I believe, and please correct me if I’m wrong, the unique oneness, for lack of a better term, that Native Americans have with the land. Is that fair to describe it that way?

Michael Johnson: I think so. Generally speaking, we have a connection to our Mother Earth that is different than most cultures you’ll find around the world. While there are over 568 federally recognized tribes in the U.S., so in no way are we monolithic in our approach to culture, religion, or things [00:01:00] like that, it’s generally safe to say that we have a different relationship with Mother Earth than most other cultures.

Robert Traynham: Is it fair to say that that relationship is also the same or maybe different or unique with non-tribal lands?

Michael Johnson: Yeah. In 1491, all of America was Indian Country, and so all of this was considered our homelands, all of the different tribes that lived in the Americas. Since then, the geopolitical borders and the advent of private property in this country have not changed our relationship with Mother Earth.

Robert Traynham: [00:01:30] Michael, I want to focus for a few moments on a project called Bears Ears. Specifically, what is that?

Michael Johnson: Yeah, so the Bears Ears National Monument is the culmination of about 10 years’ worth of advocacy work from tribes in southern Utah, the Navajo Nation, the Ute Mountain Ute, the Ute Indian Tribe, the Zuni, and the Hopi Pueblo, or the Zuni Pueblo and the Hopi people. They’ve worked with the previous administration, the Obama administration, to designate 100, 1.35 million acres of [00:02:00] land in southern Utah into this National Monument through the Antiquities Act. Generally speaking, this area holds many cultural items, places of worship, and holy spots for these five different tribes, and so they were successful in advocating the previous administration to get this designation. Now, the Native American Rights Fund, as the country’s oldest legal service fund for Indian Country, provides legal services for three of the five tribes that make up the Inter-Tribal Coalition.

Robert Traynham: [00:02:30] Michael, what does Bears Ears mean? What is the significance behind that name?

Michael Johnson: In part of the landscape, there’s an area that looks like a bear’s ears.

Robert Traynham:  I see. I see.

Michael Johnson: So it’s been named after that.