Monument reductions disrespect culture, history

Friday, Dec. 15, 2017 5:26 PM
Mo Murray

Earlier this month, President Trump displayed yet another example of blatant disrespect of Native American cultures and environmental conservation, stating his plan to dramatically reduce two major national monuments in Utah.

These famed desert areas are home to wildlife and thousands of archaeological sites that not only hold historical and scientific significance, but are considered sacred by the surrounding Native American tribes.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument would, under Trump’s plan, be reduced by about 50 percent. Bears Ears would be reduced by 85 percent, eliminating protection for over 1.08 million acres of land total.

This is the largest reduction proposed in U.S. history, and his plan is entirely based on the legal gray area of the presidential privileges granted by the Antiquities Act. Signed by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, the Antiquities Act gave United States presidents the authority to create national monuments to “protect significant natural, cultural, or scientific features.”

Monuments have been reduced by presidents in the past in the interest of taking advantage of natural resources, but never on this large of a scale. The extent to which Trump plans to slash these protected areas has Native American tribes and environmental conservation groups across the country outraged.

During his speech in Salt Lake City, Trump explained that he believes the reduction of monuments such as Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante will provide access to oil and uranium, as well as open more land to hunting and other activities. He argued that the reduction of these protected lands will provide economic stimulation, and disregarded the outdoor tourism and recreational value that has contributed in a major way to the economy of the region.

Over 90,000 people visit a single area of the many places available to visit inside Bears Ears National Monument each year, and small businesses in the area that cater to tourists have experienced a momentous boost.

Those who support Trump are looking for freedom to ride motorized vehicles within the monument and stand in favor of using fossil fuels. Sure, big extractive industries would profit from this plan, but only at the expense of the local residents Trump claims to be fighting for – who, according to recent polls, actually stand about evenly divided on the issue.

It is apparent where Trump’s true loyalty lies, and it is obviously not with Native Americans or the significance they hold for monuments such as Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. Bears Ears alone is home to more than 100,000 significant cultural and archeological sites, including complex ancient cliff dwellings, considered sacred by the five Native American tribes who still utilize the area for long-established practices and ceremonies.

Grand Staircase-Escalante is full of scientifically significant geological features as well as rare fossils, in addition to plant life gathered for traditional medicinal and ceremonial purposes. Without protection, these historical areas face the risk of theft and vandalism, an issue which has previously impacted other communities in Utah.

In his speech, Trump emphasized his eagerness to protect the land of American citizens, yet seems to conveniently overlook the fact that this plan is, in fact, doing the exact opposite. This is a clear example of a pattern which has historically plagued this country, the United States government profiting from the unjust reduction of Native American lands. This move simply proves that under the current administration, promises made to American citizens mean nothing.

Just a week ago, Trump displayed ignorance and disrespect to Native Americans when he referred to Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren (whom he has disagreed with in the past) as “Pocahontas” during a meeting with three Navajo code talkers. If it wasn’t before, it is now clear that Trump truly holds little regard for Native American people and their cultures, which deserve to be protected, not degraded.

Lawsuits have been filed by the local Native American tribes and companies such as Patagonia, who believe that the Antiquities Act is intended to protect, not endanger these lands, and that Trump’s proposed reductions amount to a misuse of power.

They are right. Trump’s plan would cause further destruction to thousands of culturally and historically significant archaeological sites, and would be a major insult to all who recognize that the preservation of history and the environment is essential to the future of the United States.

Mo Murray is a junior and sports editor of El Diablo, Durango High School’s student newspaper. Her parents are Branden and Mark Murray of Hesperus.