Foreword Reviews

Behind the Bears Ears

Exploring the Cultural and Natural Histories of a Sacred Landscape

2020 INDIES Winner
Editor's Choice Prize Nonfiction

Challenging dominant narratives, R. E. Burrillo’s playful, fierce, reverent, and sarcastic book covers twelve thousand years of the history of the Bears Ears area, revealing why it has been so important to so many for so long, and why it remains so today.

When asked why the Bears Ears—named for mountains that resemble the tops of bears’ heads, with rounded ears pointing skyward—a Native man replied, “Because it is ‘The Place.’” For him and his people, nothing more needs to be said. It is home, as it has been to many different tribes, each calling the area “Bears Ears” in their own tongue. They came, left, and came home again time after time, long before boundaries and fences were ever thought of, not imagining that one day their homecomings would be threatened.

The book reflects a deep respect for Native people and their ties to the land, and brings to light the degree to which the attitudes and worldviews of the Bears Ears’ Indigenous occupants and those of Anglo Europeans conflict. For Indigenous people, it’s about reverence for, and cooperation with, the land; for those who came later, it’s all about domination, money, and exploitation.

The narrative is powerful in bringing that difference to the fore, asking those who loot Native graves (yes, archaeologists included) how they would feel if someone ran off with their grandfather’s skull. It questions the motivations of those who examine the remains of once thriving ancient cities and wonder where the people went without ever looking at their descendants, now forced to live in deplorable conditions on reservations.

Behind the Bears Ears is an epic story of endurance that reaches back into prehistory and casts a line into the future with the hope that all people can come to know and love this sacred land, and work together to preserve it.

Reviewed by Kristine Morris

Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The publisher of this book provided free copies of the book to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. No fee was paid by the publisher for this review. Foreword Reviews only recommends books that we love. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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