The GOP’s Sickening Assault on Bears Ears National Monument - by Sage Marshall

In Arcadia’s last issue, I advocated for President Obama to designate Bears Ears National Monument before he left office. The main proponents of the monument in southeast Utah were members of an intra-tribal coalition of five native American tribes that wanted to preserve their sacred ancestral land. I argued that Obama should protect this 1.9-million-acre stretch of “canyon land that composes a vast expanse of the Ancestral Puebloan cultural landscape, scattered with the remnants of a past society.” Before bowing out to President Trump, Obama came through.

On December 28th, President Obama utilized the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate 1.3 million acres, the main section of land requested, as Bears National Monument. In the press statement, Obama wrote that his actions “will help protect [Native American] cultural legacy, and will ensure that future generations are able to enjoy and appreciate these scenic landscapes.” Additionally, President Obama, in an unprecedented move, established a “Bears Ears Commission,” composed of Native American tribal leaders, to work in tandem with the federal government to preserve their ancestral land. I celebrated this win, in spite of my fear of an impending Trump presidency. But, somehow, it seems like the fight was not actually over. Republicans are now doing everything they can to get rid of the monument.

Utah’s Republican lawmakers, led by Governor Gary Herbert and Representatives Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, are lobbying President Trump and his new Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, to undo Obama’s designation. They claim that designating the land as a national monument was a federal overreach. Republican representatives have previously wanted to open up a large segment of the land to oil and gas development.

The constitutionality of undoing a national monument is unclear. In a recent Op-Ed for The Washington Post, Rob Rosenbaum, chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council of the National Parks Conservation Association, argues that a President does not have the power to fully revoke a national monument. Other environmental organizations are poised to pursue litigation against the Trump administration should they undo President Obama’s designation.

Personally, I’m not an expert on the Antiquities Act, nor the various provisions that may or may not help determine whether President Trump’s potential actions would be constitutional. Instead, in my mind, the most compelling argument to preserve Bears Ears National Monument is a moral one. The government said that they were going to protect this Native American cultural landscape, and they should follow through. In my essay last December, I argued that designating this land was especially important because “Native Americans have been persecuted and stripped of their land since the day Europeans arrived in the Americas.” They’ve been murdered, their treaties have been broken, and their graves have been looted. The tribes have already elected their Bears Ears Commission, and they are waiting for a meeting with Ryan Zinke or President Trump to continue their work in protecting native lands. Undoing this monument is akin to breaking yet another treaty with the Native American community, and betraying them yet again.

Sage Marshall