These Tribes Gathered to Share Why They’re Fighting the Trump Administration
They want to save their ancestral lands from mining and drilling.
Less than four months after the Trump administration decided to strip most of Bears Ears National Monument of its federal protections, Native American elders gathered to share why they’re fighting to preserve their ancestral lands.
On Sunday, members of a coalition of the Navajo Nation, Hopi, Zuni, and Ute Mountain Ute tribes met to speak out about the significance of the area that houses thousands of Native American cultural sites.
“Bears Ears is what sustains us and what has sustained us through life growing up. And it will sustain our kids in the future,” Tara Benally of the Navajo Nation said before a backdrop of red sands and low-hanging clouds.
Tara Benally, of the Navajo Nation, talks about what Bears Ears means to her people: “[It’s] what sustains us ... And it will sustain our kids in the future if we protect and preserve Bears Ears as it is right now.” pic.twitter.com/jFzSTHUj5h— Chris D'Angelo (@c_m_dangelo) March 18, 2018
In 2016, President Barack Obama designated about 1.35 million acres of Utah land around two flat-topped hills as Bears Ears National Monument, after a petition from the very tribes who gathered Sunday.
But the hard-earned win was short lived.
In December 2017, Donald Trump stripped around 85% of that land of its federal status, leaving it open to mining and other industrial use.
“I’ve come to Utah to take a very historic action to reverse federal overreach and return the rights of this land to your citizens,” Trump said when he announced the decision.
But revelations in recent months from both the New York Times and the Washington Post provided evidence that lobbying efforts from extraction companies, not concern about federal overreach, influenced Trump’s decision to shrink the national monument.
Earlier this month, the New York Times published a review of emails it obtained from the Department of the Interior suggesting that officials were very interested in figuring out how much oil, coal, and natural gas in the area was available for mining. This, after the Washington Post reported in December that a uranium company heavily lobbied the Trump administration to open the land to private use.
The same day as Trump's decision, a coalition of tribes, including the Navajo Nation, Hopi, and Ute Mountain Ute, sued the Trump administration to restore the monument back to its 1.35 million-acre size. They argued that Trump's drastic reduction essentially eliminated Bears Ears, “authority that the Constitution vests solely in Congress.” That lawsuit is ongoing.
At Sunday’s gathering, tribal elders expressed concern over what extraction would do to the land.
“Losing Bears Ears to a cloud of industrial smoke from extraction and mining does not keep that preservation of life for us,” Benally, of the Navajo Nation, told HuffPost.
“We do not want or believe that mining is good for our people,” said Clark Tenakhongva, the vice chairman of the Hopi tribe. “It may bring revenue, but what are we doing to the Earth?”
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The Trump administration has given no indication that it is considering reversing its decision to shrink the national monument. But the coalition of Native American tribes is dedicated to doing anything it can to counter the move, including taking the issue to court and lobbying for congressional action.
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