What Native Americans Stand to Lose If Trump Opens Up Public Lands for Business

Trump’s decision to roll back Utah’s national monument protections is as much a threat to tribal sovereignty as it is to the environment.

On Monday, in the largest reduction of federal land protections in United States history, President Donald Trump signed proclamations slashing the area of two national monuments in Utah. That same day, with just minutes to spare before midnight on the East Coast, the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition—a first-of-its-kind alliance between the Hopi, Ute Mountain Ute, Ute Indian, Zuni, and Navajo Nation tribes—filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration, claiming that the president’s actions violated the Antiquities Act. “[The tribes] wanted to file it the same day to show that they were fearless and ready to go,” says Natalie Landreth, a senior staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund who represents the Hopi, Ute Mountain, and Zuni tribes.

Both the Trump administration and the Utah congressional delegation have tried to frame the contraction of the monuments as a restoration of states’ and individuals’ rights. Trump has repeatedly claimed that his Democratic predecessors overstepped their authority, as its laid out in the Antiquities Act, in the designation of Utah’s national monuments. In April, he ordered Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to review 27 national monuments created since 1996 (the year President Bill Clinton designated Grand Staircase-Escalante a national monument). Among those monuments is Bears Ears, nearly 1.4 million acres set aside by President Barack Obama in the final weeks of his presidency. In Salt Lake City on Monday, Trump said he had “come to Utah to take a very historic action to reverse federal overreach and restore the rights of this land to your citizens.”

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