A 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 culture, spiritual, and archaeological importance.

Indigenous people have been caring for Bears Ears for countless generations, but formal protections under American statute for the entirety of the area were attained permanent simply following 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 grounds at Bears Ears, and it was an example of our government-to-government relationship in action. Last year’s proclamation brought some closure, as well as a powerful appreciation of justice after decades-long goals had finally been met. But all of this changed in an instant.

Today, President Trump induced history by undoing all of this, walking back the progress that had been made with the federal government. Never before has a U.S. chairman tried to reduce their own nationals monument to such a certain degree for so little reason.

President 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 rescind existing tombstones — merely 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.

Until the designation of Bears Ears, our sacred lands were under constant threat. Those unfamiliar with our cultures and our traditions contributed to the steady ruin of our sacred sites by looting, tomb rob, and arbitrarily drilling for petroleum and mining uranium at the expense of our heritage.

In a remarkable presentation of tribal unity, the 5 tribe joined together to protect Bears Ears National Monument. These five tribes worked tirelessly with the previous administration to voice our concerns, and to give a detailed plan for conserve Bears Ears. These exertions led to planned visits by the administration, numerous consultations with Native community members, tribal and local governments, and industries. While the tribes did not get everything they desired, the national monument identification( and protection) was a major and long-awaited succes. Trump’s executive order today dishonors the agreement reached between tribes and the federal government.

In true-life government-to-government style, Representative Reuben Gallego( D-Ariz .) introduced legislation that would expand the boundaries of the national monument. In reality, it sets new and correct frontiers 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: the states members of Congress approaches the tribes, and in open and transparent dialogue, we discuss our shared priorities and interests.

The Washington Post via Getty Images

It is undisputed 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 legislators who would determine our sacred lands plundered for short-term economic gain that could come from drilling for petroleum and mining for uranium. In the hollow and politically-motivated national tombstones 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 session that was finally taken was an insult, and it confirmed the tribes’ doubts of the administration’s sincerity.

Bears Ears signaled progress in save and perpetuating our thriving indigenous cultures, and advancing tribal sovereignty and self-determination. Sadly, Trump’s actions today fit a developing pattern of discrimination that humiliations Native people, our ancestors, and all those who have opposed and sacrificed in service of this sacred land.

The Native American Rights Fund , among others, is prepared to fight for the tribes and for Bears Ears. In the coming periods, we will take that fight to the courts. For many years we have fought to protect our ancestral lands, and billions 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.

John Echohawk, Pawnee, is the Executive Director of the Native American Rights Fund, America’s oldest and larger nonprofit statute firm dedicated to asserting and protecting the rights of Indian tribes, organisations, and individuals nationwide .

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