In an announcement by President Trump on Monday in Salt Lake City, the size of two national monuments would be drastically reduced. According to the Trump administration, the Bears Ears National Monument would be reduced by 85 percent, and Grand Staircase-Escalante, would be reduced to half its current size. It is the largest cut to federal land protection in U.S. History.
“Some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington,” said Trump said at Utah’s State Capitol, “And guess what? They’re wrong … together, we will usher in a bright new future of wonder and wealth.”
The move by the Trump administration was a reversal of protections put in place by President Barack Obama, who designated Bears Ears as a national monument in 2016, and President Bill Clinton who classified the Grand Staircase-Escalante in 1996.
Shortly after the announcement by Trump, the inter-tribal coalition, comprised of the Ute Mountain Tribe, the Ute Indian Tribe, the Navajo Nation, the Hopi and the Zuni, filed a lawsuit against the executive order on the basis that President Trump does not have the legal authority to remove the national monument protections.
The Navajo Nation issued a statement that said they were not able to consult with the President regarding Bears Ears and that they now had no other recourse than to seek litigation.
“The Navajo Nation has made repeated requests to meet with President Trump on this issue. The Bears Ears Monument is of critical importance, not only to the Navajo Nation but to many tribes in the region,” President Begaye said in the statement. “The decision to reduce the size of the Monument is being made with no tribal consultation. The Navajo Nation will defend Bears Ears. The reduction in the size of the Monument leaves us no choice but to litigate this decision.”
“Bears Ears National Monument is not just for Native Americans but for all Americans,” Vice President Jonathan Nez said in the statement. “This is a sad day for indigenous people and for America. However, we are resilient and refuse to allow President Trump’s unlawful decision to discourage us. We will continue to fight in honor of our ancestral warriors who fought for our way of life, for our culture and for our land too.”
Native American Rights Fund Staff Attorney Matthew Campbell also stated we will fight to uphold the rights of Native people, “Bears Ears is one of the most important places for Indian Country, and that is why Indian Country came together to advocate for this important place. Trump’s attack on Bears Ears is an attack on all of us, and we will fight to protect it.”
Though environmental groups and native tribes say the decision will threaten over 100,000 archaeologically important / sacred sites, Republicans and fossil fuel companies consider the move a victory in seeking more localized control of the lands.
“The Antiquities Act does not give the Federal Government unlimited power to lock up millions of acres of land and water, and it’s time we ended this abusive practice. Public lands will once again be for public use," said Trump In a statement issued from the Department of the Interior.
"I thank President Trump for his leadership on the Monument Review and for keeping his promise to make sure the rural voice is heard once again," said Secretary Zinke.
According to the Interior release, monuments have been reduced at least eighteen times under presidents on both sides of the aisle and examples include: President John F. Kennedy excluding Bandelier National Monument, Presidents Taft, Wilson, and Coolidge reducing Mount Olympus National Monument, and President Eisenhower reducing the Great Sand Dunes National Monument in Colorado.
The release also cited Interior Secretary Zinke did meet with tribal leaders prior to the decision by Trump.
In addition to tribal leaders and conservation groups, the National Congress of American Indians and its president Jefferson Keel, also condemned the decision by the Trump Administration.
“[The] NCAI opposes President Trump’s efforts to reduce two monuments that hold tribal sacred places. [Monday,] President Trump issued Presidential Proclamations reducing the size of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase national monuments in Utah. These monuments were initially designated as monuments to ensure that tribal and American citizens would have use of these significant landscapes for generations to come. The National Congress of American Indians stands by the efforts of all affected Tribal Governments and local communities who are determined to protect these sacred places in their entirety,” said the release.
“The original intent of the Antiquities Act was to protect our tribal sacred sites and the cultural objects in those sites. The history of our Indigenous ancestors lives in these sacred places. Today’s action to reduce Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante endangers our freedom of religion, our histories and our communities,” stated Jefferson Keel, President of NCAI in the release. “We stand with the Tribes of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition as well as the Tribes impacted by other Monument designations.”
Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante were both designated under the original intent of the Antiquities Act. The Antiquities Act granted power to the President to create national monuments to protect Tribal sacred sites and cultural objects. The Act does not grant the President the authority to reduce and revoke the boundaries of national monuments as was done [Monday.]
Indian Country Today’s Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter