Haaland would additionally function a robust and poetic counterweight to President Trump’s authentic alternative as inside secretary, Ryan Zinke, who resigned amid ethics controversies, and whose signature move was the large discount of Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah, the one nationwide monument to develop out of the pondering, planning and advocacy of Native Americans. The move was a reminder that American exploitation and damaged guarantees to native individuals are not restricted to the previous. Haaland’s appointment gives the hope of altering this course.
Bears Ears, a big area of public land nearly empty of folks however full of cultural and non secular significance for Indigenous peoples, is a spot of pure magnificence and archaeological richness at a density unheard of in any comparable space in our nation. It is wealthy not simply in archaeology however archaeological historical past, and it’s right here that Richard Wetherill got here to perceive that the houses and instruments he was uncovering didn’t belong to one “ancient people,” however a number of cultures.
Bears Ears is an embodiment of the Antiquities Act, handed by Congress in 1906, with a legislative directive to protect the “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures.” The act gave the president sole authority to declare nationwide monuments and the president on the time, Theodore Roosevelt, acted rapidly on this new authority. The invoice landed on his desk on June 8, 1906, and by the tip of the yr he had declared 4 nationwide monuments, together with Petrified Forest, El Morro and Montezuma Castle. It was a tempo that may proceed till the final day of his presidency when he declared Mount Olympus in Washington a nationwide monument.
But whereas the Antiquities Act has been a useful environmental instrument, from the start it was additionally used to wrest land away from Native Americans. Consider the very first nationwide monument, Devils Tower in Wyoming, proclaimed by Roosevelt in 1906, an nearly 900-foot-tall granite monolith made well-known in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Devils Tower had lengthy been known as Bear Lodge by the Plains Indians, and was thought-about sacred by many tribes. In “saving” it, the United States authorities usurped a spot of ceremony within the title of recreation, conservation and science.
Bears Ears was to be completely different, the byproduct of years of work and activism begun in 2010 by Utah Diné Bikéyah (“People’s Sacred Lands”). While a lot of land was already public, this primarily Navajo group pushed to make it a nationwide monument, and afford it the protections that include monument standing. This was partly to fight current looting and desecration of sacred websites. In 2009, the FBI had charged 24 residents of Blanding, Utah, with stealing, promoting and buying and selling historic Indian artifacts, together with greater than 2,000 intact ceramic vessels.
The work to create some type of safety for this oft-robbed panorama proceeded slowly. In 2015, having spent 5 years doing the preliminary work of interviewing tribal elders in regards to the significance that specific locations had for his or her clans and tribes and culturally mapping the world, Utah Diné Bikéyah invited different native nations to be part of within the creation of a proposal for a nationwide monument. The 5 tribes that may finally make up the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition — Navajo, Hopi, Ute, Zuni and Ute Mountain Ute — gathered to craft the preliminary proposal. One member of the unique coalition, Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk, remembers the spirit animating this push: “We didn’t want to say, ‘We want our land back.’ Ours was an effort to heal. We worked hard to stay away from terms like ‘racism.’ We tried to focus on the light, not the darkness.”
This cautious effort concerned creating a deep understanding of the Antiquities Act. The consequence was a change of the 114-year-old regulation into a method of saving fatherland somewhat than tearing it away. In 2016, Lopez-Whiteskunk traveled to Washington, D.C., to advocate for the proposal, and he or she marveled at policymakers taking her severely and the empowering feeling that she “wasn’t threatened or being belittled, or have someone else speaking ‘in my best interests.’”
Even so, President Barack Obama’s Bears Ears proclamation fell short of what many of the advocates of the monument had hoped for: true co-management of Bears Ears by the tribes and the government. Instead, the document stated that the secretary of agriculture and the secretary of the interior would manage the monument through the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, while a Bears Ears Commission, made up of a member from each of the five tribes that brought forth the original proposal, would “provide guidance and recommendations.” The fee would “effectively partner with the Federal agencies by making continuing contributions to inform decisions regarding the management of the monument.”
Despite falling quick, Bears Ears broke new floor. The proclamation of the monument drew closely on the unique proposal written by the Inter-Tribal Coalition, and provided up an American story of a spot that lastly included the primary Americans, together with descriptions of the archaeology, anthropology and pure historical past of Bears Ears. It additionally acknowledged and elevated the significance of Indigenous data, which the doc known as a “resource to be protected and used in understanding and managing this landscape sustainably for generations to come.”
Inside of a yr, nevertheless, Trump and Interior Secretary Zinke started to undo this work, slashing the scale of the monument by 85 % whereas additionally stating their intention of opening up sections of Bears Ears to fracking and different sorts of mining. It was a return to conventional, dismissive American insurance policies towards Native Americans.
The Biden administration — and secretary-designate Haaland — can change all that. If they select to restore Bears Ears to its authentic borders, and higher but in the event that they contemplate instituting true co-management of the monument, the president and the primary Native American secretary of the inside can make historical past. They can present that the Antiquities Act can be used to protect not usurp fatherland. This, extra so even than the symbolism of Haaland’s appointment, will present that the United States is prepared to start righting previous wrongs in its coping with Native Americans.