Tribal communities have sounded the alarm again and again. Public lands across the United States have been targeted for “review,” and we are in danger of losing the natural treasures we have worked so long to protect.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced last month, as part of a reassessment of national monuments mandated by President Donald Trump, that he was recommending that Bears Ears National Monument be shrunk in size, with some areas stripped of monument designation.
The announcement has caused deep sorrow and disappointment among tribal communities, especially in Utah, home of the Bears Ears monument. The area protected by the monument includes hundreds of thousands of archaeological sites, ground that is special to us.
These lands offer beauty, medicine and sustenance for the soul, and tribes throughout the West have been at the front of the battle for their protection. A tribal council and local stakeholders had joined to determine shared conservation plans for Bears Ears, to manage and preserve the land together. The national monument designation had brought needed funds, resources and cooperation.
It took decades and immense efforts to achieve the designation. It took Secretary Zinke 45 days to undo all that work.
For tribal communities in Nevada, the wound is no less deep because of the distance. Our connection to these lands stretches beyond state borders, and indeed, before the establishment of states. Our ancestors traveled through and lived in these lands since time immemorial, and our interests in these places go just as far.
Now we fear what may happen to the national monuments that lie within Nevada: Gold Butte, and Basin and Range. Both were designated by President Barack Obama after lengthy consultations with local stakeholders, tribal leaders and the public. Basin and Range contains petroglyphs dating more than 4,000 years, sharing the stories of tribes that in the time since have nearly died out. In Gold Butte, you’ll find ancient fire pits and hearths as well as endangered species. Both contain invaluable historic, scientific sites and stunning, rich vistas. Both are now at risk.
Despite pledging to include the tribal community in his decision-making process, Secretary Zinke took little time to consult with the indigenous groups to whom Bears Ears is sacred, choosing instead to meet privately with oil and gas company executives. When I hosted an event at the Las Vegas Paiute Multi-Purpose facility with other regional tribal leaders last month, we invited Secretary Zinke. His office did not respond, though representatives for our congressional delegation attended.
Now we learn that Secretary Zinke may be coming to Nevada soon. Will he meet with tribal leaders? Will he listen to our stories, join us on a tour of our ancestral lands? Or will we be denied once again?
If we cannot count on Secretary Zinke to consider our pleas, then we call on our state leaders who represent Nevadans to defend our public lands, our ancestral lands. We ask Sen. Dean Heller, who signed a letter to Secretary Zinke praising this damaging review, to join Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, Rep. Dina Titus and Rep. Jacky Rosen, and stand with Nevadans who want our national monuments designations maintained.
We demand that our voices be heard, that our elected and appointed officials listen to their tribal constituents and the millions of Americans who want this attack on our natural treasures to end.
Fawn Douglas is a Paiute artist and Native American activist who lives in Las Vegas.