Native American Tribes Join to File Lawsuit Against Trump Attack on Bears Ears National Monument
Five Native American tribes have joined to file what they are calling an historic lawsuit against President Donald Trump, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and several other members of the administration.
Five Native American tribes have joined to file what they are calling an historic lawsuit against President Donald Trump, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and several other members of the administration. The move came just hours after Trump visited Utah Monday, where he announced his plan to open up protected federal lands to mining, logging, drilling and other forms of extraction. The plan calls for shrinking the 1.3 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument by more than 80 percent and splitting it into two separate areas. Trump would slash the state’s 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by 50 percent. Bears Ears National Monument was created in 2016 by then-President Barack Obama. President Bill Clinton created the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996. The national monuments were designated under the century-old Antiquities Act, a law meant to protect sacred sites, artifacts and historical objects. We speak with Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk, a member of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and former co-chair of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, and with Bob Deans, director of strategic engagement at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
AMY GOODMAN: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones, the song that was played at President Trump’s Utah announcement yesterday. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, five Native American tribes have joined to file what they are calling an historic lawsuit against Donald Trump, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and several other members of the Trump administration. The move came just hours after the president visited Utah Monday, where he came to unveil his plan to open up protected federal lands to mining, logging, drilling and other forms of extraction. The plan calls for shrinking the 1.3 million-acre Bears Ears Monument by more than 80 percent and splitting it into two separate areas. Trump would slash the state’s 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by 50 percent. Bears Ears National Monument was created in 2016 by then-President Barack Obama. President Bill Clinton created the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996. The national monuments were designated under the century-old Antiquities Act, a law meant to protect sacred sites, artifacts and historical objects. Trump criticized the law on Monday.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Your timeless bond with the outdoors should not be replaced with the whims of regulators thousands and thousands of miles away. They don’t know your land. And truly, they don’t care for your land like you do. But from now on, that won’t matter. I’ve come to Utah to take a very historic action to reverse federal overreach and restore the rights of this land to your citizens. … Therefore, today, on the recommendation of Secretary Zinke, and with the wise counsel of Senator Hatch, Senator Lee and the many others, I will sign two presidential proclamations. These actions will modify the national monuments designations of both Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.
AMY GOODMAN: President Trump’s announcement follows a months-long review by the Interior Department to identify which of 27 monuments designated by past presidents should be rescinded or resized. The Native American Rights Fund filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Navajo Nation, Pueblo of Zuni and the Hopi, Ute Indian and Ute Mountain Ute Tribes. The five tribes pushed for the creation of and co-managed the Bears Ears Monument, which they consider sacred. Conservation groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club, also filed a legal challenge, arguing Trump did not have the authority to dramatically shrink the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
For more, we go to two guests. Bob Deans is with us in Washington, D.C., director of strategic engagement at the Natural Resources Defense Council, author of Reckless: The Political Assault on the American Environment and co-author of The World We Create: A Message of Hope for a Planet in Peril. And on the phone from Montrose, Colorado, Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk, a member of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and former co-chair of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! We’re going to begin right now with Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk. Can you talk about the significance of this announcement that President Trump made yesterday, in actually making history, announcing the largest rollback of federal land protection in U.S. history?
REGINA LOPEZ–WHITESKUNK: Yes. Thank you for having me on the show this morning.
And it’s rather disturbing, considering that this is the first time that a president has rolled back a significant amount. And what the landscape means to Native Americans—and all citizens—is it’s a representation of public land, which means the public should have access. Whether it’s Native Americans, whether it’s the rock climbers, whether it’s the archaeologists or the paleontologists, it doesn’t matter. It’s public land. It has the story of our people. It has a story of time. It has much more than just the extraction industry would like to take from it.
And the five tribes that came together, we came together in a sense of healing. We healed our own relationships from within. And as soon as we were able to reach that point of being able to move on in a common goal to seek protection and preservation for our future, then we can move on to try to heal other relationships, such as with the federal government. And that’s what we did. We achieved so much more than just the land and the protection. We achieved a sense of healing from within, from a very humanistic side of everything. It isn’t just about seeking that almighty dollar or being able to fuel the homes with such energy resources out there. It’s about taking care of one another and being good neighbors, being good stewards of the land, because that’s what our ancestors have told us through the stories that have been left on the walls of the canyons.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk, I wanted to ask you about President Trump’s claim that this is actually an act to open up the lands for use by the public and the people of Utah, when, in reality, those lands can be visited by any American right now, right?
REGINA LOPEZ–WHITESKUNK: They can. But here’s the reality of that. By opening up—and although he’s saying that in words, when we open up to industry, the extractive industry, they acquire leases, they acquire their permits. Once these companies come out, we don’t have access to those. Plus the lands become contaminated. Then there’s other environmental threats, threats to something as basic as water. Out here in the West, we don’t have a lot of water. But these are questions, these are concerns and threats, that nobody is talking about, because everybody’s focused on the extractive industry and opening up for economic development. They’re forgetting about those basic elements in life: water, air, the animals, the people.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s bring Bob Deans into this discussion, Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, D.C. Can you talk about why President Trump has chosen these two protected areas and what this means for parks and protected areas all over the country? Start with Bears Ears, Bob.
BOB DEANS: Sure, Amy. Thank you so much.
Well, if you look at Bears Ears, this is land that the oil, gas and coal industry wants access to. And if you take a look at the map, you see that millions of—that a huge amount of this property that Trump has stripped protections away from is exactly where those resources lie. So that’s what this is about. This is about taking nearly 2 million acres of public lands, lands that belong to you and me, Amy, and handing it over for toxic pollution and industrial ruin, for the sake of profits, for coal, oil, uranium and natural gas.
It’s wrong. It’s illegal. We are going to take him to court. We are going to hold him to account. We’re going to stand up for these lands. We’re going to stand with these indigenous peoples, like Regina. And we’re going to stand up for the rule of law.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Bob Deans, when you say it’s illegal, could you talk about—explain the Antiquities Act? And once a president declares certain lands under the Antiquities Act, can another president then retroactively remove them from protection?
BOB DEANS: Absolutely not. The Antiquities Act of 1906 has been used by presidents from both parties, going back to Teddy Roosevelt, to set aside special places across this country. That’s why we have these special places. And these are public lands or a public trust, set aside in perpetuity for the public interest. And there is not one word in that statute that authorizes a president, like Donald Trump or anyone else, to go back and take away those public lands that belong to you and me. That’s exactly why we filed our lawsuit, why the indigenous peoples have filed theirs. And we’re going to prevail in court.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk about what actually happens now. The announcement was made. What is the chronology of events that will now ensue?
BOB DEANS: Well, we will see what happens in the courts of law. But what’s happened in the courts of public opinion has already been clear, and Donald Trump is not listening to the American people. In Utah alone, 60 percent of the people of Utah want those monuments protected. That’s according to a Colorado College recent poll. Three million Americans went on record with public comments, asking for these monuments to be protected. And we’ve heard from the five tribal nations that are co-managing these monuments, by the way, Amy, so that we can have the wisdom and insights of Native peoples devoted to the responsible stewardship of these Native lands. Donald Trump has swept all of those voices aside, so that he can listen to the voices of fossil fuel and uranium industries. It’s wrong. It’s illegal. And we’re going to fight it.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk, I’d like to ask you: What kind of consultation was involved by the Trump administration or the interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, with the Native—with the Native tribes most involved with these particular monuments? What kind of discussions did you have beforehand, before the decision was reached?
REGINA LOPEZ–WHITESKUNK: Well, I can speak to the time that I served, which was three years prior to this. And we had extensive consultation with the former administration. And after I left office and people were striving to get the time of the secretary of interior, as well as the president, there was very little to none on the side of the coalition side. And just reading through and finding out that the coalition had to—the five tribes had to fight for the one hour that Secretary Zinke gave them in Salt Lake when he came out to visit. That was it. When the hour was done, they were done. And he continued on the rest of his visit to Utah, which he was surrounded by a lot of the anti-monument people and the state’s elected leaders. So, if we’re calling this a democracy, he’s making a mockery of it.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn back to President Trump speaking in Utah on Monday—outside, thousands of people protesting. He said the Antiquities Act keeps communities, including Native Americans, from enjoying public lands.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have seen how this tragic federal overreach prevents many Native Americans from having their rightful voice over the sacred land where they practice their most important ancestral and religious traditions. … With the action I’m taking today, we will not only give back your voice over the use of this land, we will also restore your access and your enjoyment. Public lands will once again be for public use.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Bob Deans, as we begin to wrap up, if you could comment on that and what it means for protected areas around the country? Now, Bears Ears was designated by President Obama in 2016, Grand Staircase-Escalante by President Clinton back in, I think it was, 1996.
BOB DEANS: That’s correct, Amy. No, that’s a disgraceful and indigenous—I mean, disingenuous speech that the president gave yesterday. The very purpose of declaring these lands monuments is to protect access for the cultural and spiritual needs of indigenous peoples—and for all of us, Amy. You can go there and hunt. You can fish. You can hike. You can camp. You can kayak. You can rock climb. You can enjoy those spaces, as we do our public lands all across this country. What Donald Trump did was strip away the protections that ensure that access for all of us. And these are lands, again, Amy, across the country that are now perhaps vulnerable, if this sets a precedent, because we’re talking about lands that have been set aside so that future generations of America may know the natural splendor of this country the way the first Americans knew it. That’s a promise we’ve made to our children, Amy. It’s a promise we’re going to keep.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Bob Deans, could you talk about the particular role of Senator Orrin Hatch, one of the most powerful members of the Senate in this whole debate and decision?
BOB DEANS: We hope that Orrin Hatch will listen to the people of Utah, 60 percent of whom want these monuments protected and not stripped of those protections, as the president has done.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Bob Deans, Natural Resources Defense Council; Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, former co-chair of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, we thank you both for being with us. Clearly, this is a battle that is not yet done, and we’ll continue to cover it.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where history is being made. An election took place over a week ago, and the people are in the streets by the tens of thousands, and soldiers and police have gone back to their barracks saying they will not enforce the incumbent president’s orders, they will not repress the people of Honduras. We’ll find out what’s happening. Stay with us.