THE NEVADA INDEPENDENT- The attacks on our public lands will be constant. But indigenous people are speaking louder than ever, and elected leaders are starting to listen.
Sen. Tom Udall from New Mexico recently introduced promising legislation in Congress that affects us here in Nevada. The Antiquities Act of 2018 would protect national monuments – including Gold Butte National Monument here in Southern Nevada – from the devastating changes that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and President Trump have tried to make. It would remind the administration that the Antiquities Act of 1906 gives only Congress, not the president, the power to change national monuments once they are established. If passed, the bill would undo what Zinke and Trump did to Utah’s national monuments, removing 2 million acres from protection.
But for Utah’s Bears Ears, it may be too late. The federal government just approved mining permits next to Bears Ears, or what should be Bears Ears National Monument, near Ute lands. This could cause great devastation to the Ute lands, water and air just miles away. And this could happen to us in Nevada, to Gold Butte, our Paiute ancestral home.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto has already signed on as a co-sponsor of the Antiquities Act of 2018, continuing her leadership as a champion for public lands and indigenous voices. The bill is also supported by the Bears Ears Coalition Tribes (Hopi, Navajo, Ute, Ute Mountain Ute and Zuni). Sen. Dean Heller has remained silent and has not signed onto the bill.
Also this month, President Trump released a budget proposal that rearranges the programs and agencies (such as the Bureau of Land Management) that help manage national monuments and protect public lands. This includes the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act (SNPLMA), a bipartisan bill to help fund conservation projects, many in indigenous ancestral lands across Nevada. Under President Trump’s budget, and by Sen. Heller’s own words, the SNPLMA would be “gutted.”
And so the attacks continue.
Our people are the original stewards of these lands. For millennia, our ancestors made these lands our home. The proof is still there in the artifacts, petroglyphs and cultural sites that remain. The very few that remain and must be protected. These attempts to remove protections from our ancestral lands must be stopped. If Sen. Heller can speak up to defend funding for SNPLMA, why not for Gold Butte? Why not for Basin and Range? Why not for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase?
Any elected official who claims to value indigenous people must listen and respect what we are asking for: for these special places to be preserved. Adequate protection, federally recognized, properly funded. It’s not hard to do when the overwhelming majority of Americans want it, too.
During their own review of the monuments, an overwhelming majority of people who submitted public comment asked for national monuments to remain the way they are. I delivered more than 90,000 petitions locally to congressional offices, asking Secretary Zinke and our delegates to hear the support of Nevadans for national monuments.
That support remains strong. A recent poll by Conservation in the West found that 70 percent of Nevadans still favor protecting national monuments like Gold Butte and oppose any changes to these lands. More than 66 percent of Westerners don’t want Utah’s national monuments altered either.
Sen. Heller did the right thing by speaking out against the proposed cuts to public lands programs. We only wish he would do the same for Gold Butte and defend our ancestral lands from the Trump administration’s attempt to shrink national monuments.
The time for elected officials to hear and heed Native Americans is now. Our words are important. Our voices are powerful. We will stand strong against these attacks on our values and our lands.
Fawn Douglas is a member of the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, where she previously served as a tribal councilwoman. She teaches American Indian-Indigenous Studies as a part-time instructor at UNLV. In her faculty role, she has joined the UNLV American Indian Alliance and also serves as a co-advisor for the Native American Student Association.