A local Navajo woman and Bears Ears supporter cooked vats of mutton stew, made piles of fry bread, and we all listened to stories at the Mexican Water Chapter House and heard again why the Bears Ears landscape is so important to the people.
We listened to stories about Headman Manuelito. He was born at the “Bears Ears” that sit atop the deep and convoluted red rock canyons above the Colorado River. We know these places as Dark Canyon, White Canyon, and Cedar Mesa today, but Native people have been hunting, gathering and occupying these vast, wild landscapes for millennia. Diné call this area "Náhonidzó," or “the escaping place.” Manuelito guided hundreds of Navajo into this maze-like refuge to save them from the Long Walk of 1864, when Navajos were forced by the U.S. army to march from Arizona and Utah into a new reservation in New Mexico. Those who stayed in hiding in these canyons were spared the trauma and death of the Long Walk. Diné were allowed to return home in 1868 and Utah Navajo People joined them to re-occupy what is now the Navajo reservation.