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Mr. President, that land is not yours to give away

Claire Kosewic, Editor in Chief

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An open letter to President Donald J. Trump:

You are entitled to create and designate national monuments as you see fit, to ensure that places of pivotal importance to our country’s past are cherished and celebrated as they should be.

You are not, however, entitled to obliterate the monuments designated by your predecessors. But you knew this already, which is why you explicitly called the dissolution of the Bears Ears National Monument a “reduction” instead of a revocation.

You took power from people who comprehend and cherish its significance, and gave it to people who do not.

But redesignating a parcel of protected land to 14 percent of its original size is not a reduction. It is a revocation.

President Obama, in his designation of Bears Ears, noted dozens of natural features and artifacts to be protected — including plants and animals that could not survive elsewhere, and traditional Native American art which tells the story of an incredible people.

In your executive order “modifying” Bears Ears, it was noted that the Antiquities Act requires the smallest amount of land possible around the area of interest to be protected, and that reducing the monument’s size is acceptable because “some items are not unique to Bears Ears” and others “are not of significant scientific or historic interest.”

You have no comprehension of Bears Ears’ significance to the Native American tribes who call it home — or used to, before the United States government forced them out. Some of their sacred rituals are so specific that the plants, animals and other items used in ceremony can only be taken from Bears Ears. To them, you have destroyed a heritage.

You told the people of Utah that your executive order gave them back “power over [their] own land,” removing control from a small handful of Washington bureaucrats. It sounded like a favor.

You must have forgotten about the Bears Ears Commission, whose Navajo, Ute and Ute Mountain tribal representatives influence all decisions made about the monument. The United States government recognizes these tribes as sovereign nations with lands in Utah. Pursuant to Standing Bear v. Crook of 1879, Native Americans are human beings too.

So no, you didn’t really give any power back to the people. You took power from people who comprehend and cherish its significance, and gave it to people who do not. Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee do not care about sacred burial grounds, ancient cliff dwellings or traditional ceremonies. It’s not their heritage, after all.

You didn’t even have the dignity to visit the land, or to meet with tribal officials before ripping federal protections off of these sacred sites and opening the land to destructive gas and oil development.

With a scrawl of your pen, you have torn people from their ancestral homelands, and carelessly decided what is important to them and what is not. The United States government has broken almost 500 treaties with Native American people since 1778. Don’t let Bears Ears be another one.

 

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Mr. President, that land is not yours to give away