Is This the Bear Ears’ Final Battle?

On December 4, 2017, President Trump cut millions of acres from two national monuments in Utah. With a simple proclamation, Grand Staircase-Escalante was reduced by nearly 50 percent. Bears Ears National Monument was slashed by 85 percent.

Within days, lawsuits were filed to stop Trump’s order. A coalition of Native American tribes, the outdoor retailer Patagonia, and nonprofit preservation organizations all sued, arguing that the president exceeded “the limited authority delegated to his office,” violated “the Antiquities Act and the separation of powers established in the Constitution” and circumvented the law by “attempting to evade that strict limitation” of his power.

A month ago, it seemed the fate of these monuments lay in the courts. Not anymore.

One of the plaintiffs’ key arguments is that the president lacks legal authority to reduce or extinguish national moments—only Congress does. Enter the Shash Jaa National Monument and Indian Creek National Monument Act. Introduced by Representative John Curtis, a Republication from Utah, the bill would make permanent Trump’s reduction to Bears Ears, ending litigation by mooting questions over presidential authority.

As Carleton Bowekaty and Shaun Chapoose of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition recently wrote in The Hill, the Curtis bill is full of doublespeak. Reportedly, Rep. Curtis did not meet with a single tribal official yet his bill claims to to create the first Tribally plunderedskullscolwellmanaged national monument.” In fact, it was President Obama’s administration, who spent years consulting with Native Americans and established an advisory commission made up of one elected official from each of the Hopi, Navajo, Ute Mountain Ute, Ute and Zuni tribes to guide Bears Ears’ management. The Curtis bill would alter the commission to include a county commissioner who supports the president, exclude tribes outside Utah, and empower the president to select most commission members. These changes fundamentally undermine tribal rights of self-representation and self-determination.

The Curtis bill, though, is likely not really about Native Americans—or their heritage at all. We now know that Energy Fuels Inc., a Lakewood-based uranium firm, lobbied the Department of the Interior in the spring of 2017, and other mining and business lobbyists reportedly pressed the administration. Although the original Bears Ears Monument preserved “existing users,” including mining, and would have created new jobs around outdoor and conservation industries, the Curtis bill will open enormous tracks of land to new extraction. Simply put, the Curtis bill is asking Americans to trade in thousands of irreplaceable archaeological sites and a vast natural preserve for the fleeting money to be made from oil, gas, coal, and uranium.

Given the turmoil over presidential designations of monuments in Utah, perhaps it is good for Congress to have their say. But if Congress is the will of the people, what is our will? One 2017 poll found that 52 percent of Utahns supported the reduction. However, more evidence suggests that Bears Ears has broad public support. Another 2017 poll reported that 47 percent of Utah voters think the original Bears Ears designation was a good thing (compared to 32 percent who thought it bad). That same poll found that 83 percent of Coloradans—with nearly identical numbers in six other Western states—think that existing national monuments should be protected. During a public comment period in 2017, of the tens of thousands of comments the government collected, an analysis shows that an overwhelming majority support keeping the full Bears Ears Monument intact.

For those who believe Bears Ears is a special place that should be safeguarded for all Americans, this is the moment to contact your representatives in Congress. Otherwise, the Curtis bill could be the final battle in the war over Bears Ears.

Dr. Chip Colwell is the founding editor-in-chief of SAPIENS. His new book is Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits: Inside the Fight to Reclaim Native America’s Culture.


More articles by:
March 21, 2018
Paul Street
Time is Running Out: Who Will Protect Our Wrecked Democracy from the American Oligarchy?
Mel Goodman
The Great Myth of the So-Called “Adults in the Room”
Chris Floyd
Stumbling Blocks: Tim Kaine and the Bipartisan Abettors of Atrocity
Eric Draitser
The Political Repression of the Radical Left in Crimea
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan Threatens Wider War Against the Kurds
John Steppling
It is Us
Thomas Knapp
Death Penalty for Drug Dealers? Be Careful What You Wish for, President Trump
Manuel García, Jr.
Why I Am Leftist (Vietnam War)
Isaac Christiansen
A Left Critique of Russiagate
Howard Gregory
The Unemployment Rate is an Inadequate Reporter of U.S. Economic Health
Ramzy Baroud
Who Wants to Kill Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah?
Roy Morrison
Trouble Ahead: The Trump Administration at Home and Abroad
Roger Hayden
Too Many Dead Grizzlies
George Wuerthner
The Lessons of the Battle to Save the Ancient Forests of French Pete
Binoy Kampmark
Fictional Free Trade and Permanent Protectionism: Donald Trump’s Economic Orthodoxy
Rivera Sun
Think Outside the Protest Box
March 20, 2018
Jonathan Cook
US Smooths Israel’s Path to Annexing West Bank
Jeffrey St. Clair
How They Sold the Iraq War
Chris Busby
Cancer, George Monbiot and Nuclear Weapons Test Fallout
Nick Alexandrov
Washington’s Invasion of Iraq at Fifteen
David Mattson
Wyoming Plans to Slaughter Grizzly Bears
Paul Edwards
My Lai and the Bad Apples Scam
Julian Vigo
The Privatization of Water and the Impoverishment of the Global South
Mir Alikhan
Trump and Pompeo on Three Issues: Paris, Iran and North Korea
Seiji Yamada
Preparing For Nuclear War is Useless
Gary Leupp
Brennan, Venality and Turpitude
Martha Rosenberg
Why There’s a Boycott of Ben & Jerry’s on World Water Day, March 22
John Pilger
Skripal Case: a Carefully-Constructed Drama?
March 19, 2018
Henry Heller
The Moment of Trump
John Davis
Pristine Buildings, Tarnished Architect
Uri Avnery
The Fake Enemy
Patrick Cockburn
The Fall of Afrin and the Next Phase of the Syrian War
Nick Pemberton
The Democrats Can’t Save Us
Nomi Prins 
Jared Kushner, RIP: a Political Obituary for the President’s Son-in-Law
Georgina Downs
The Double Standards and Hypocrisy of the UK Government Over the ‘Nerve Agent’ Spy Poisoning
Dean Baker
Trump and the Federal Reserve
Colin Todhunter
The Strategy of Tension Towards Russia and the Push to Nuclear War
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
US Empire on Decline
Ralph Nader
Ahoy America, Give Trump a Taste of His Own Medicine Starting on Trump Imitation Day
Robert Dodge
Eliminate Nuclear Weapons by Divesting from Them
Laura Finley
Shame on You, Katy Perry
Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography