Native tribes sue Trump over Bears Ears Monument

Native tribes sue Trump

'Strict government control'

Outdoor clothing company Patagonia has also filed a lawsuit against the president's decision, calling it "an illegal move.

"This is the largest elimination of protected land in American history," the company said on its website.

As of Thursday, four separate lawsuits had been filed against Trump's proclamation on the national monuments, the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper in Salt Lake City reported.

Speaking in Utah on Monday, however, Trump accused previous US administrations of overreaching in their national monument decisions.

Those administrations, Trump said, engaged in "abuses of the Antiquities Act [that] give enormous power to faraway bureaucrats at the expense of the people who actually live here, work here, and make this place their home".

"We've seen many rural families stopped from enjoying their outdoor activities. And the fact they've done it all their lives made no difference to the bureaucrats in Washington," Trump said.

Passed in 1906, the Antiquities Act is meant to protect sacred lands and artifacts, among other things. It restricts hunting, fishing and other recreational activities in the designated areas.

Following a years-long, concerted effort from Native tribes, Barack Obama designated Bears Ears a monument in December of last year, just before the end of his second term as president.

Former President Bill Clinton made Grand Staircase Escalante a monument in 1996.

"Abundant rock art, ancient cliff dwellings, ceremonial sites, and countless other artifacts provide an extraordinary archaeological and cultural record that is important to us all, but most notably the land is profoundly sacred to many Native American tribes," Obama wrote in a proclamation at the time.

But Trump has argued his predecessor did not designate the "smallest necessary area be set aside for special protection" as stipulated under the Antiquities Act.

"Unfortunately, previous administrations have ignored the standard and used the law to lock up hundreds of millions of acres of land and water under strict government control," Trump said.

In April, Trump signed an executive order calling on Ryan Zinke, the US interior secretary, to review all national monument designations over 100,000 acres (40,400 hectares) that were made since 1996.

In addition to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante, Zinke is pushing the administration to change the monument designations in at least 10 other monuments "to allow for more grazing, timber, fishing, road access and other uses", Reuters news agency reported.

The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, on the border of Oregon and California, and the Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada could be reduced in size, Zinke recommended, according to a statement on the website of the department of the interior.

On Twitter, Zinke said Trump was "giving a voice back to the people who live and work in Utah

"Our land is for the enjoyment and benefit of the people and not special interest groups," Zinke wrote.

But according to an August report by the Center for Biological Diversity, energy companies have lobbied to lease more than 42,500 hectares (105,000 acres) "within or near public lands that now constitute Bears Ears" for oil and gas development.

According to Shaun Chapoose, a member of the Ute Tribal Business Committee from the Uncompahgre band in Utah, the Bears Ears area is "a flashpoint" in the relationship between Native Americans and the federal government.

Granting the area national monument status helped ease past tensions, Chapoose told Al Jazeera, which have flared over the years when sacred burial grounds, religious altars and other artifacts have been disturbed.

It was "a great move within the nation to finally have reconciliation", he said.

"But with this president and this administration, they're trying to take us back into that era of the 1800s and a more paternalistic approach."

Chapoose, who is also a Bears Ears Commission member and part of the lawsuit challenging the Trump administration's decision, added that protecting Bears Ears is in the interests of everyone, not just Native Americans.

"If it's destroyed, it can never be replaced," he said.

"Treasures like these, you could go across the world - the pyramids in Giza, the Pantheon - once those types of resources get destroyed, you lose a very important part of the story of the world.

"We do have responsibilities to protect that."

Source: Aljazeera

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