You probably have read by now that President Trump took the unprecedented action to drastically reduce the size of national monuments in Utah, including Bears Ears, sacred lands to Native nations. As the New York Times reported:
President Trump sharply reduced the size of two national monuments in Utah on Monday by some two million acres, the largest rollback of federal land protection in the nation’s history.
The administration shrank Bears Ears National Monument, a sprawling region of red rock canyons, by 85 percent, and cut another monument, Grand Staircase-Escalante, to about half its current size. The move, a reversal of protections put in place by Democratic predecessors, comes as the administration pushes for fewer restrictions and more development on public lands.
Native nations are fighting back, saying the President does not have the constitutional authority shrink national monuments, according to a statement from John Echohawk, executive director of the Native American Rights Fund.
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.
Obama created the Bears Ears National Monument a year ago. Native nations had pressed for that designation to protect their sacred places. As Echohawk explained:
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 destruction of our sacred sites by looting, grave robbing, and indiscriminately drilling for oil and mining uranium at the expense of our heritage.