In Native American culture, the land, landscape, and everything in it is intertwined – it is sustenance, it is shelter, it is health.
Tribal people’s relationship with the land also goes beyond the physical and is part of a connection to the spiritual and ancestral. Today, many other communities find solace and healing in the outdoors – whether hiking, hunting, or picnicking with family. This is a testament to the lost links between people and our natural environment.
Over 100 years ago Congress recognized that many Native American artifacts and historic sites were being vandalized, looted, and decimated to such an extent that something had to be done. America, Congress recognized, could not lose its rich heritage. The result was the passage of the Antiquities Act, which gave the President the power to preserve this heritage for all people and future generations.
President Teddy Roosevelt first used the Antiquities Act to protect some of America’s most iconic lands. Since then Republican and Democratic presidents alike have used this authority to ensure that our nation’s special landscapes and historic sites are preserved.
This includes places like the Mojave Trails National Monument, Sand to Snow National Monument, and Castle Mountains National Monument in the California Desert; the Gold Butte National Monument in southern Nevada; the Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah; and the expansion of the California Coast National Monument. All of these spectacular landscapes also have unparalleled historic value as Native American heritage sites. By designating them as national monuments, President Barack Obama ensured that they will remain open, and that their treasures will remain in the public trust, rather than be razed or sold off.
Just as these monuments tell stories from our nation’s past, so do the last national monuments that President Obama designated in Alabama and South Carolina, at Birmingham, Anniston, and St. Helena Island, which tell the stories of the Reconstruction and Civil Rights eras; stories that are integral to the fabric of America and who we are today as a people.
These diverse places inspire and remind Americans to learn from our past, honor the men and women who came before us, and educate future generations. They represent our greatest ideals of commemorating our complex history, embracing the experiences and perspectives of different communities, and entrusting our landscapes and history to the public to cherish, honor, and respect these lands as Native people have done for generations.
To that end, Obama also issued a Presidential Memorandum encouraging federal agencies to make it a priority to engage all Americans in accessing and conserving our public lands and waters so that all feel welcome in our collective legacy. Yet, at the same time, bedrock conservation laws like the Antiquities Act face attack, and the new administration will now be its steward.
President Donald Trump has said he wants to follow President Roosevelt’s example and voiced his support for being “great stewards” of our national public lands. While President Roosevelt has a mixed legacy for tribal people, his conservation policies were unprecedented in protecting areas that now remain intact for future generations. We hope that President Trump and his nominee for Secretary of the Department of Interior, Rep. Ryan Zinke, will stand against partisan efforts to revoke national monuments and tarnish our great system of public lands. Instead, we ask them to unequivocally embrace our shared responsibility to protect America’s parks, monuments and other public lands.
By Robert Paull, Special to the Desert Sun