Why Trump’s Bears Ears decision worries so many

There are now five lawsuits contesting the president’s monument reductions, including two led by tribes.

 

Indian Country News is a weekly note from High Country News, as we continue to broaden our coverage of tribal affairs across the West.

While the legality of the move is still being debated, both in the courtroom and the court of public opinion, the implications of President Donald Trump’s decision to reduce Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent is being felt in Indian Country.

For centuries, the 1.35 million-acre lands that cover much of southern Utah were home to several tribes. To those communities, the land not only represents an important part of their cultures and histories, it holds countless artifacts and archaeological objects that could be damaged or destroyed should that land be opened up to more travel, less regulation and greater mineral exploration. As we saw this week, minerals likely played a role in the decision to reduce Bears Ears, despite Trump’s insistence they did not

There are now five different lawsuits filed against Trump’s decision to shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, including two led by tribes or tribal groups, demonstrating a wide swath of parties with vested interests in the landscape. One suit, filed by the Hopi, Navajo, Ute Indian, Ute Mountain Ute and Zuni tribes, seeks an injunction to Trump’s proclamation and to prohibit its enforcement. Another, filed by the Utah Diné Bikéyah, the Patagonia clothing company, and other advocacy groups, seeks a court order to restore the monument to boundaries set out by the Obama administration, claiming Trump’s reduction would threaten historical artifacts, kivas and pueblos.

Ruins at Cedar Mesa, inside Bears Ears National Monument

Destruction of such objects isn’t the only worry tribes have. The Bears Ears Coalition, made up of the Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute and Uintah and Ouray Ute nations, successfully negotiated with the Obama administration for a powerful seat at the table when deciding the boundaries of the monument. Their hope, in part, was to stop the development of roads and pipelines that come with mineral extraction and cut through villages and sacred lands.  

Those kinds of developments can fragment more than the landscape. “Most of our pueblos are still transmitting their migration history through oral means,” Theresa Pasqual, former director of Acoma Pueblo’s Historic Preservation Office, told High Country News recently. “So when you have development that begins to impact many of these sites they are literally destroying the pages of the history book of the Pueblo people.”

The monument designation also gives federal land managers more leverage to limit visitation, which can keep motorized and non-motorized recreation away from sensitive sites. San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman, who helped organize a 2014 protest in which armed ATV riders sped over ancient Puebloan villages, stood next to Trump as the president announced the reduction, providing a clear signal of the administration’s priorities.

In the coming weeks High Country News will continue to dissect the legal implications of Trump’s decision, as well as its impact on Indigenous communities that called the area home long before the United States was even an idea.

Graham Lee Brewer is a contributing editor at High Country News and a member of the Cherokee Nation.

High Country News Classifieds
  • MEMBERSHIP MANAGER
    For more information visit www. wyofile.com/careers/
  • THRIVING LOCAL HEALTH FOOD STORE FOR SALE
    Turn-key business opportunity. Successful well established business with room to grow. Excellent highway visibility.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    For more information, visit www.wyofile.com/careers/
  • SONORAN INSTITUTE, CEO
    Chief Executive Officer Tucson, Arizona ABOUT SONORAN INSTITUTE Since 1990, the Sonoran Institute has brought together diverse interests to successfully forge effective and enduring conservation...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a high-impact, nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a 27-year legacy using...
  • PROJECT MANAGER
    Position Summary Join our Team at the New Mexico Land Conservancy! We're seeking a Project Manager who will work to protect land and water across...
  • SEEKING PROPERTY FOR BISON HERD
    Seeking additional properties for a herd of 1,000 AUM minimum. Interested in partnering with landowners looking to engage in commercial and/or conservation bison ranching. Location...
  • DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT AND MARKETING
    High Country News seeks a Director of Product and Marketing to join our senior team during an exciting chapter of innovation and growth. This individual...
  • WILDLIFE HAVEN
    Beautiful acreage with Teton Creek flowing through it. Springs and ponds, lots of trees, moose and deer. Property has barn. Easy access. approx. 33 acres.
  • ARIZONA CONSERVATION CORPS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Arizona Conservation Corps is seeking a Program Director in Flagstaff or Tucson
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...