Bears Ears National Monument: An Important Message from HMI’s Head of School

Dear HMI Alumni,

Yesterday, Donald Trump signed an order reducing the size of the Bears Ears National Monument, beginning a legal battle over the president’s right to make such a decision. These public lands contain culturally significant areas to American Indian tribes in Dark Canyon, Grand Gulch, Jacob’s Chair, and Cedar Mesa, all places key to our wilderness program. They are our classrooms. They are places where scores of HMI students have discovered passions, confidence, and strength. They are important to us.

I was thrilled that this incredibly special area was to be preserved forever. We want future generations to experience the Bears Ears as so many of us have. While I was disappointed by our president’s decision, I have been equally concerned by the rhetoric both sides in the debate have employed to defend their views. We would do well to have more empathy for one another, to try to understand why the Bears Ears are worth preserving and why many residents of Southeastern Utah do not want to accept more federal regulations on the use of the lands they call home. Living in Leadville, a place also surrounded by public lands, I am both grateful the lands exist and often extraordinarily frustrated by the bureaucratic labyrinth that manages them. The difficulty we have in obtaining wilderness permits for our backcountry expeditions, for example, is a real threat to HMI.

The debate about the president’s decision proves once again that it has become too acceptable to talk past one another. I have waited in vain over the last two days to hear an interviewer ask partisans in this controversy if they have taken time to understand the perspectives of people on the other side, and, if so, how those perspectives have helped shape their understanding of the situation. It is questions like this we need more of, and questions which I hope HMI alumni across this country will ask themselves.

In P&P class, our students do just this, studying the question of the Bears Ears National Monument from a variety of perspectives. I will not deny that many of our students favor maintaining the current status of the Bears Ears after these discussions. I hope they make this choice, however, with empathy for those on the other side, with an understanding of the complexities of the issue, and with a determination to engage in dialog with those who disagree. We will win when we approach these conversations not to convince those on the other side that they are wrong, but to build respectful relationships between people of good will. This is what our country needs more than ever; it is a challenge I hope that our alumni will accept with the same determination and enthusiasm that they brought to visits to the Bears Ears as students at HMI.

Please reach out if you want to connect on this topic; I look forward to hearing from you.

Wishing you all the best,
Danny O’Brien
Head of School

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