Teddy Roosevelt is spinning in his grave today.
Roosevelt was a Republican president of a different era, one where the party supported the idea of conservation and put their money where their mouth was by authorizing Roosevelt’s request to create the United States Forest Service (USFS) and establishing 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, four national game preserves, five national parks, and 18 national monuments.
Altogether, Theodore Roosevelt protected approximately 230 million acres of public land during his presidency. Today, the leader of a Republican party that would be completely unrecognizable to Roosevelt helped destroy his legacy when President Trump tore apart two national monuments in Utah, Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears, to sell off more than half the protected land to rapacious mining companies.
While most Americans support the preservation of breathtaking public lands to be enjoyed as parks and recreation areas and to preserve some semblance of the continent’s original environment, to Native Americans, the original inhabitants of the area, the land is sacred, and Trump’s actions are another atrocity being perpetrated against their people, another assault on their religious beliefs, another attack on their guardianship of the land that they believe God gave them to watch over and protect, a claim no less valid than the conviction that Yaweh gave the land of Israel to the Jews.
Now, a group of five Native American tribes in the Utah area around the now desecrated national monuments plans to sue the Trump administration over its short-sighted and greedy plans for the land. Leaders of the Navajo, Hopi, Pueblo of Zuni, Ute Mountain, and Ute Indians tribes were the people who pushed for the creation of these particular monuments and have managed them since they were established by Presidents Clinton and Obama during their administrations.
Demonstrators from the tribe gathered yesterday in Salt Lake City where they told The Guardian that the move to break up the protected lands was a “monumental mistake”. With Native American activism on the rise in the wake of the battle over the Keystone pipeline, the joint action by tribes that had never worked together before their campaign to initially establish the monuments proves that, despite their setbacks in the pipeline dispute, they still have the motivation to battle a federal government that is attacking that which they hold sacred.
Shaun Chapoose, the councilman of the Ute Indian Tribe business committee, said:
“Indian country is coming out of its sleep. It’s given an opportunity for us to voice concerns, and it’s made it OK for tribes to talk amongst themselves, like they used to do a long time ago.”
“At one time, there was this big network of communication going on between tribes. After the reservations system, they got isolated from surrounding neighbors. Bears Ears has brought that back where it didn’t exist. It’s brought Indian Country back together.”
The Trump administration’s giant giveaway to the mining interests means that a line in the sand has been drawn for the Native American community that they will not back away from.
“It’s another slap in the face in the overall relationship between the federal government and the tribes, and local people,” Chapoose said.
A Navajo Nation Council delegate, Davis Filfred, is worried that the reclaimed monument land would suffer the same fate as the reservation land that the Navahos now inhabit, scarred and contaminated by fossil fuel development.
“There is no reclamation, they scarred the whole Mother Earth,” Filfred said. “The way I see it, they’re going to bulldoze Bears Ears, and there will be nothing there. We’ll tell the next generation, ‘You see that ash pit over there, that’s where Bears Ears was. Now it’s a uranium mine.’
“Money cannot replace what we have in terms of wilderness area. It’s habitat to many species, plants and medicinal and ceremonial herbs. You can’t wipe all those away.”
The tribes will be fighting in actual courts as well as the court of public opinion. As sovereign Native American nations, the tribes have treaty rights that the government cannot ignore.
”We will be fighting back immediately. All five tribes will be standing together united to defend Bears Ears,” said Natalie Landreth, an attorney for the Native American Rights Fund, which believes the cut violates the Antiquities Act.
The lack of foresight in destroying lands for a short-term economic boost is typical of Republican attitudes towards the environment. For a group of peoples for whom the land is truly sacred, the Trump administration’s reckless disregard for their beliefs is no less than sacrilege.