Magazine article The Christian Century

Native Americans Press to Keep Bears Ears Land a National Monument

Magazine article The Christian Century

Native Americans Press to Keep Bears Ears Land a National Monument

Article excerpt

Davis Filfred wishes President Trump would take a page from General "Stormin' Norman" Schwarzkopfs playbook in thinking about Bears Ears National Monument. When Filfred served as a Marine Corps combat engineer in Operation Desert Storm, Schwarzkopf ordered troops not to target religious or archaeological sites for bombing.

Filfred, a member of the Navajo Nation Council representing districts in Utah, wants the Trump administration to take the same approach to Bears Ears, a 1.3-million-acre swath of southern Utah that has become the latest battleground between the federal government and a Native American movement of religion-infused environmental activism.

"This is the place where we worship," he said. "This is our holy ground."

In late April Trump signed an executive order calling for a review of almost two dozen sites designated as national monuments since 1996. The order requires Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to submit reviews of monuments larger than 100,000 acres within 120 days, with the exception of Bears Ears, for which he was to submit a final review within 45 days. The investigation will center on whether the monuments could be reduced in size or perhaps eliminated.

"What Trump wants to do, and the Utah [congressional] delegation, is they want to bomb our sacred place," Filfred said.

The Bears Ears monument in particular-designated as such by President Obama in December--has become a political lightning rod. Utah's members of Congress have long opposed giving the site a protected status, in part because of the land's potential for resource extraction. They brought the issue to the Trump administration's attention.

The 1906 Antiquities Act gives presidents the power to create national monuments, and Obama created more national monuments than any president besides Franklin Roosevelt, with Bears Ears being one of the largest. No president has ever rescinded a national monument designation--though many have downsized monuments--and it is unclear if Trump has the authority to do so.

What is clear is that Native Americans are prepared to fight attempts to reduce or eliminate the area's protected status. The designation of Bears Ears as a national monument last year was the culmination of a years-long lobbying effort from five tribes in the region: the Hopi, Navajo, Ute Indian, Ute Mountain Ute, and the Zuni.

The designation was evidence of what academics say has been a steadily increasing awareness of Native American cultural and spiritual life.

Prior to the 1970s, there was "little governmental sensitivity . …

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