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An All Terrain Vehicles (ATV) rally group in Utah at Recapture Canyon met to protest the U.S. Federal Government’s intervention in closing off a trail, deciding to ride through sacred Native American burial sites. Since 2007, ATV riders have not been allowed to use the trail, since it is the exact location of a group of 2,000-year-old Native American burial sites and ancient homes built by the Navajo Tribe’s ancestors.
As hundreds of ATV riders planned to ride through this location, they brought their machinery to a very sacred place of the ancient Native American Pueblo people, whose descendants have inhabited the area for countless generations and have since developed a rich culture and history. The tranquility of the area, having also served as a peaceful trail for hikers and those on horseback, faced this large group riding their vehicles.
This protest, heavily influenced by Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s violent anti-government activities in Nevada, had riders fighting the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), who warned the protestors to not enter the location. Because of the area’s Native American burial sites and ancient homes, participants in the ATV rally could face consequent prosecution for unlawful trespassing.
The ATV rally’s decision to ride through sacred Native American burial sites has become part of an overall protest between a group of right-wing residents of the Western states and the U.S. Federal Government over jurisdiction in municipal parks.
Phil Lyman, a county commissioner for Utah’s San Juan Country, stated that there would be at least a few hundred participants at the city park for the rally, but only a handful would ride through the blocked trail. Having also gained support through social media sites like Facebook, Lyman has stated that he would not allow any militant individuals or violent activities into the rally. Since his family has lived in the county for four generations, he went on to state that the ride was only to show extreme disagreement with the U.S. Federal Government and how it has tried to extend its control over public areas. As Lyman also stated, the government “is not the supreme authority.”
However, both Native Americans and environmentalists state that the current ATV ban is vital at Recapture Canyon, as there are fragile artifacts, burials and homes of ancient Pueblo peoples, all of which need to be preserved. Current Navajo inhabitants claim that the dwellings and artifacts left there belonged to their direct ancestors, and that the sacred land needs to not be trodden upon out of respect for their people.
Lyman, in response to Native American criticism, stated that it would be possible for ATVs to ride through the area while preserving sacred ancient artifacts. However, Jessica Goad from the Center for Western Priorities strongly disagreed with Lyman’s statement, explaining how ATV riders ruined any chance of riding through the area when two men were discovered by authorities using picks and shovels to construct another trail for ATVs before the original ban had been instituted.
The ATV rally to ride through sacred Native American burial sites has since spurred anger among Natives, as well as environmentalists and other groups opposed to the rising threat of right-wing action in Western states. According to these groups, not only do these actions show extreme lack of respect to Native cultures, but it also shows a high amount of ignorance about the government’s involvement in the lives of citizens. This is due to both far-right individuals like rancher Cliven Bundy and the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, who each provoked the event.
By Scott Gaudinier