Commentary: Trump’s action to cut Bears Ears is a historic injustice

While our hearts are heavy today, our spirits are high. There are still many beautiful stories to be told at Bears Ears. We know Americans still support us, and still support the protection of all our national monuments.

Protesters march from the Utah State Capitol through downtown Salt Lake City during President Donald Trump's visit Monday, Dec. 4, 2017. Roughly 3,000 demonstrators lined up near the State Capitol to protest Trump's announcement of scaling back two sprawling national monuments, and his declaring that "public lands will once again be for public use." (Benjamin Zack/Standard-Examiner via AP)

We are still reeling from the news that President Trump is attempting to cut the size of the Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent. By revoking and replacing the monument and leaving two new, separate monuments in its place, the president has effectively attempted to rescind the Bears Ears National Monument that was the result of almost a decade of local, tribal and federal cooperation.

The president has no such authority to revoke or replace a monument, and his attempt to do so here is an affront to our Native Nations, to our tribal members and to the cultural and natural resources we sought to protect through the monument. The president’s action is a direct attack on our culture and history, and on our sovereignty and self-determination as Native Nations.

We will not stand by as our ancestral lands are under siege. Our cultures were born upon these lands, our sacred migrations occurred here, and the vitality of our cultures depends on Bears Ears and other places like it where we still return to pray, to gather food and medicine, to perform ceremonies, and to connect our children with our ancestors.

We will now take our battle to defend these lands before the courts, and we will continue to honor the lawful establishment of the Bears Ears National Monument through our work on the Bears Ears Commission of Tribes.

Our union of tribes around Bears Ears is historic. Never before have Navajo, Hopi, Ute, Ute Mountain Ute and Zuni governments agreed to work together to jointly preserve our ancestral lands. Bears Ears is important to us and to our way of life, and we will continue to protect and defend it. We are not stakeholders. We are not interest groups. We are sovereign nations within the United States as identified in the U.S. Constitution. President Trump’s reduction of the monument dishonors the United States’ trust responsibility and the government-to-government relationship with our Native Nations.

It is time to set the record straight. The president, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the Utah congressional delegation and Utah’s governor did not consult with us in making their decision to shrink Bears Ears. This is the work of powerful politicians playing the same old game, and attempting to bring the swamp to southern Utah.

They did not work with us, despite their claims that they heard the voices of tribes. The voice of the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, the Ute Indian Tribe, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and the Pueblo of Zuni has been uniform, consistent and loud: Protect our homelands, histories and cultures by preserving the Bears Ears National Monument.

It is simply not enough to hear our voices and ignore them outright. That defies our status as pre-constitutional sovereigns that pre-date the United States with unassailable and longstanding ties to Bears Ears that also pre-date the United States and the state of Utah. The failure to consult with our elected leaders on gutting Bears Ears also abdicates the trust duty the United States has to our nations. The lack of understanding and regard that this administration has shown for Native Nations has been abhorrent, and this attempted dismantling of Bears Ears follows what is becoming a long line of attacks.

While our hearts are heavy today, our spirits are high. There are still many beautiful stories to be told at Bears Ears. We know Americans still support us, and still support the protection of all our national monuments. It remains a time to honor Native cultures, and to protect the public lands in which our cultures have evolved and continue to thrive today. We will continue to protect this place for countless generations to come.

Carlton Bowekaty

Davis Filfred

Pueblo of Zuni Councilman Carleton Bowekaty and Navajo Nation Council Delegate Davis Filfred represent a coalition of five tribes (Navajo, Hopi, Ute, Ute Mountain Ute and Zuni) united to defend Bears Ears National Monument.