RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL- White Americans sentimentally regret “what we did to the Indians” in the 19th century, but do not regret it enough to stop doing it in 2017. In 1830, it was economically expedient to expel Native Americans from the Carolinas and Georgia. So Andrew Jackson – whose portrait loomed behind President Trump last month as he met with Navajo people and called a senator “Pocahontas” – pushed through the Indian Relocation Act, sending thousands on the Trail of Tears.
Earlier this month the president stripped conservation protections from 85 percent of the Bears Ears National Monument. He claimed to be transferring control from D.C. to local people. But the question we must ask is: In Trump’s mind, who counts as local? Apparently, the need for local control is not satisfied if the locals are indigenous. Ninety-eight percent of the local Navajos supported existing conservation protections for Bears Ears National Monument, according to a report by Utah Dine Bikeyah.
The Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service were responsible for consulting the Bears Ears Commission of Tribes when making all management decisions. This commission of appointees from Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, and two Ute tribes sent a letter to the Trump administration calling for upholding existing Bears Ears National Monument protections, but it fell on deaf ears. This sacred land includes 100,000 archaeological sites. It contains burial grounds, cave dwellings and other traditional sites.
“This action highlights an inability to honor … an improvement in relationship with our tribal nations,” said Rev. Judy Wellington of the Presbyterian Synod of the Southwest.
Paiutes from Nevada’s Pyramid Lake Reservation went to D.C. to speak out against this unprecedented dismantling of a national monument. Top leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church USA and The Episcopal Church all opposed this infringement on Native American traditional lands. But the voices of faith were overridden by economic interests.
Lest we believe we are exempt from harm in Nevada, our own Gold Butte national monument has been named among U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s recommended places for diminishing. Southern Paiute tribes in Nevada were among those who labored hard to save Gold Butte.
We love, honor, and respect indigenous peoples until their presence becomes inconvenient and we have some economic use for their land. Then the image of Andrew Jackson appears once more on our television screens and in our public policy.
Bishop Dan Edwards serves with the Episcopal Diocese of Nevada.