Photo credit: Tim Peterson
President Trump’s Bears Ears Order Is An Illegal Attack On Tribal Sovereignty
The action fits a long pattern of discrimination and disrespect.
By John Echohawk, NARF Executive Director
The following op-ed was originally published by Huffington Post.
year ago, the Obama administration took the extraordinary and
long-awaited step to designate Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.
Bears Ears has been home to Native peoples since time immemorial, and we
cherish it for its cultural, spiritual, and archaeological importance.
people have been caring for Bears Ears for countless generations, but
formal protections under American law for the entirety of the area were
made permanent only with the creation of Bears Ears National Monument.
Five tribes (Hopi, Navajo, Ute, Ute Mountain Ute and Zuni) worked with
the U.S. Government to protect our sacred ancestral lands at Bears Ears,
and it was an example of our government-to-government relationship in
action. Last year’s announcement brought some closure, as well as a
powerful sense of justice after decades-long goals had finally been met.
But all of this changed in an instant.
President Trump made history by undoing all of this, walking back the
progress that had been made with the federal government. Never before
has a U.S. president tried to reduce a national monument to such a
degree for so little reason.
Trump does not have the authority to take the action he took today.
Under the Antiquities Act, the president may create national monuments.
That is all. He or she may not modify or revoke existing monuments —
only Congress has that ability. Trump’s actions are illegal,
unwarranted, and deeply unpopular. And they are a blatant attack on
tribal sovereignty and self-determination.
the designation of Bears Ears, our sacred lands were under constant
threat. Those unfamiliar with our cultures and our traditions
contributed to the steady destruction of our sacred sites by looting,
grave robbing, and indiscriminately drilling for oil and mining uranium
at the expense of our heritage.
a remarkable display of tribal unity, the five tribes joined together
to protect Bears Ears National Monument. These five tribes worked
tirelessly with the previous administration to voice our concerns, and
to offer a detailed plan for preserving Bears Ears. These efforts led to
planned visits by the administration, numerous consultations with
Native community members, tribal and local governments, and businesses.
While the tribes did not get everything they desired, the national
monument designation (and protection) was a major and long-awaited
victory. Trump’s executive order today dishonors the agreement reached
between tribes and the federal government.
true government-to-government fashion, Representative Reuben Gallego
(D-Ariz.) introduced legislation that would expand the boundaries of the
national monument. In fact, it sets new and proper boundaries that the
five tribes originally proposed to the Obama administration. Rep.
Gallego’s bill also offers an important footnote on how the federal
government should engage in government-to-government relations: a member
of Congress approaches the tribes, and in open and transparent
dialogue, we discuss our shared priorities and interests.
is clear that Trump’s attack on Bears Ears is motivated by his desire
to undo decisions made by his predecessor, but also to grant political
favors to the Utah politicians who would see our sacred lands plundered
for short-term economic gain that could come from drilling for oil and
mining for uranium. In the hollow and politically-motivated national monuments review,
spearheaded by the Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, the Trump
administration failed to meaningfully consult tribal governments,
despite claims to the contrary. In the lead up to Secretary Zinke’s
visit to Utah this spring, tribes offered to meet with the Secretary,
government-to-government. The hastily arranged hour-long meeting that
was finally taken was an insult, and it confirmed the tribes’ doubts of
the administration’s sincerity.
Ears signaled progress in preserving and perpetuating our thriving
indigenous cultures, and advancing tribal sovereignty and
self-determination. Sadly, Trump’s actions today fit a growing pattern
of discrimination that dishonors Native people, our ancestors, and all
those who have fought and sacrificed in service of this sacred land.
Native American Rights Fund, among others, is prepared to fight for the
tribes and for Bears Ears. In the coming days, we will take that fight
to the courts. For many years we have fought to protect our ancestral
lands, and millions of people have supported us in this. We will not
allow the rights of tribes and tribal members to be willfully pushed
aside for petty politics and the interest of greed.
We will stand firm for justice.