Several environmental organizations and Native American tribes have started filing lawsuits against President Trump and his decision to reduce the Bear Ears National Monument by 1.35 million acres. Five native tribes that have historical claims to the land, including Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe, argue that President Trump is breaking the 1906 Antiquities Act, which gives presidents the authority to designate land to protect historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest. According to Patagonia, an outdoor equipment company that is also suing Trump, “No president has ever reversed a prior president’s monument by wholesale removal of protections for landmarks, structures and other objects of historic or scientific interest.” There is no legal precedent that allows the president to remove a national landmark status without congress’ approval. Groups claim this is an abuse of power that must be stopped.
Trump’s goal in redesigning Bears Ears National Monument is to put an end to preserving the land and start mining in the mineral rich areas. Most controversially, Trump has suggested oil drilling on a land that has been for years protected by conservation. Groups say this is shortsighted and ignores the many natural wonders available in Bears Ears, such as the diverse wildlife, the scenic bluff, and the plentiful plant life. They also argue that Bears Ears contains several different sacred sights to the five tribes. David Filfred, a member of the Navajo Nation Council, told Al Jazeera, “We have rooms. We have tools. We have artifacts … This land was our aboriginal land.” According to the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), “President Trump’s action to revoke and replace the Bears Ears National Monument is not only an attack on the five sovereign nations with deep ties to the Bears Ears region; it is a complete violation of the separation of powers enshrined in our Constitution.”
This is not the first time Trump has angered both environmental groups and Native Americans. He is a notorious climate change denier who has appointed other deniers to important cabinet positions. Shortly after his inauguration, members of the National Parks started a rogue Facebook group after being forbidden from discussing climate change. For Native Americans, Trump is inspiring another fight. According to NARF, “This latest action follows on the heels of the Administration’s other actions against Tribes: (1) issuing the permit to the Dakota Access Pipeline, (2) issuing the permit to the Keystone XL, and (3) revoking the Executive Order to protect the Bering Sea on April 28th. Tribes vigorously opposed all of these efforts. The Administration uses the term “tribal sovereignty” but clearly does not understand what that means.”
The plaintiffs all hope that their multiple lawsuits can save Bears Ears and allow many more generations to enjoy the beauty of the nature. For Native Americans, there is an added pressure to protect their historically sacred sites and preserve their culture to pass on to future generations. According to Filfred, “We’re going to litigate. We’re going to stand. We’re going to hold President Trump accountable for this and we’re going to take it to court. We’re going to fight it.” Though the future of Bears Ears remains uncertain, they can guarantee that Trump will face a resistance if he continues to threaten public land.