For example, to allow the cultural resources advisers to be able to provide the information we need, the interpretation we need of the Ancestral Puebloan landscape there; to allow for our natural resources folks to go up there and do their work they need to do as far as making sure that the management is in line with what we believe here. All of that should be reflected in the land management plan we’re building. The idea is, overall, to preserve the tribal importance of this area and why this area is important not just to tribes but to America in general.
MAE: Has it helped you heal or grow?
CB: Bears Ears has been, I guess for me, one of the things that has helped me grow not just as a political leader, but also as a human being, again. PTSD, anger management, all those things, you can find different ways to deal with it but in the end, if you’re not ready to make those changes within yourself, then you’re going to upend the whole thing. My involvement in Bears Ears has not only led to personal and spiritual growth but also to my growth as a tribal leader. Being able to interact with other tribal leaders with the same intent, with the same drive, being able to think outside of the box with them, and eventually be able to advocate in D.C. with the same group of folks who have the same vision and understanding [of] why it’s important to them and respecting that. Understanding that they’re expecting the longevity to be encompassed with whoever continues the work.
MAE: What do you want to leave behind?
CB: I want to help the youth here in Zuni realize that for us as a people, it’s about enduring, it is about being resilient, it is about being patient and being prepared. Being patient isn’t being lazy; being patient is making sure you’re ready in your heart, in your mind. If you’re a child, go to school – be educated. If you’re a parent, make sure your kids are well-fed, have a stable home so [they’re] able to learn. These are the things that we’re hoping to demonstrate as our core values.
MAE: What do you tell your kids about Bears Ears and the work you’re doing?
CB: I try to explain to them why our voice is important here in Bears Ears, why it’s important to see the bigger picture of the Zuni not just through the lens of the reservation, but the lens of the importance we as Zuni have throughout the Southwest. If you listen to our oral history, elements of our people are what allowed the Southwest to survive: the seeds, the corn, the ability to grow, the ceremonies that went along with it. Zuni have always been strong in that. My belief is that we helped provide avenues to support survival.
Michael A. Estrada is a first-generation, Salvadoran-American photojournalist and artist. His work falls at the intersection of environment, justice, art, and the representation of folks of color in media. He is also the founder of Brown Environmentalist.