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.