Monday, President Trump signed an executive order gutting Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent and cutting Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in half. This has been marked as the largest elimination of protected land in U.S. history, second of course to the taking of millions of land from indigenous people over the past centuries. Despite the grief and rage that fills many hearts, the people’s response should also inspire hope that the future of these lands doesn’t rest with Trump, but rather in our creative, committed, clasped hands.
We showed our commitment when over 5,000 people rallied on the steps and lawn of the Utah State Capitol on Saturday with signs that read “Honor Tribes, Honor Bears Ears,” “Keep Your Tiny Hands off Our Public Lands,” and “Shrinking Staircase Would be a Tyrannosaurus Wreck.”
We showed our creativity when over 100 people engaged in art-as-activism on Sunday, dressing in white jumpsuits and spelling out “Go Home Trump” on the Capitol’s south lawn.
And on Monday, as Trump entered the Capitol, thousands of us showed our dissent by clasping one another’s hands and turning our backs to Trump and the Utah delegation who have turned their backs on us. We clapped our hands on our hearts, creating a collective heartbeat that vibrated throughout the crowd. We marched peacefully through the streets with songs and chants. We held a moment of silence for the land, wildness, and the Native people who Trump’s executive order dishonors.
Trump, Interior Secretary Zinke, and the Utah delegation have disrespected and disregarded the five tribes — Hopi, Navajo, Ute Mountain Ute, Zuni, and Ute — who proposed the monument. Bears Ears was the first monument proposed by and co-managed with tribes. It represented a small but important step in healing and reconciliation, in acknowledging Native sovereignty and honoring the sacred.
The idea that Bears Ears National Monument was too big displays disgusting ignorance of the fact that we stand on stolen land. Before Trump signed his executive order, Sen. Orrin Hatch said, “I believe the outcome he is planning to announce strikes an excellent balance where everyone wins.” That’s bad math, Hatch. Decreasing Bears Ears by 85 percent, a monument already smaller than the tribe’s proposal, is a pathetic slap in the face. The only way to strike a semblance of balance is to honor the tribes’ request to protect their ancestral homeland.
The people who stand with Bears Ears understand this. As we marched away from the Capitol, we unfurled massive banners that said “We Stand on Stolen Land” and “Defend the Sacred.” We ended our protest before the press conference with tribal leaders because we know their voices must be heard the loudest.
And then there’s Grand Staircase-Escalante, the monument that protects the Kaiparowits Plateau from corporate greed and an ideology that says we must strip every last bit of fossil fuels from the ground. The Kaiparowits Plateau contains billions of tons of coal. When I asked an Escalante resident how much the coal potential was driving the push to gut Grand Staircase, they responded, “All of it.” As we chanted “Save Grand Staircase,” we weren’t just standing up for wildness, but also a stable climate, clean air, and clean water in this precious desert landscape.
Wendell Berry said, “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” Trump’s executive order should fill our hearts with rage and grief. But the actions of the people and the leadership of the tribes should also fill us with hope. The tribes and conservation groups are already filing lawsuits. Whether we’re fighting in the courtroom or singing in the streets, our collective hearts beat stronger than those trying to desecrate.
Protecting land has never been a short-term game. We stand for the long haul.
Brooke Larsen grew up in Salt Lake City and is a master’s student in the University of Utah Environmental Humanities Graduate Program. She organizers for climate justice across the American Southwest.