“The president has stolen your land.”
In bright bold, this text flashed across my screen against a pure black background on Patagonia’s website. Environmental causes certainly have taken a hit over the course of the last year. Funding slashed, coalitions left, but national monuments shrunk?
In a recent blog post, I documented my experiences with various indigenous communities and the deeply founded and engrained respect each native culture has with the land. Guiding values of environmental protection define such cultures, but here in the modern day Western world, we seem to have forgotten the cruciality and ephemerality of the Earth. Our national parks encourage such reverence and appreciation, but with President Trump declaring a 49% reduction of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and a 86% reduction to Bears Ears National Monument, such arrestingly stunning places are left to the whim of human action.
With 2 million acres lost, five different lawsuits have been filed against the drastic decision to decrease the size of Utah’s national monuments. With suits filed by the Hopi, Navajo, Ute Indian, Ute Mountain Ute and Zuni tribes, as well as the Utah Diné Bikéyah, and the Patagonia clothing company, amongst other environmental advocacy groups, the reduction threatens not only nature at play, but also sacred native lands, historical artifacts and the hard-fought victory of tribes for a seat at the table in regards to national monument boundaries.
Sparking such legal battles, the decision not only threatens the current status of national monuments, but also reflects a time where land conservation is far from a priority. Putting preserved land at risk of oil and gas extraction, deforestation and mining, conserved quickly transitions to commodified and protected to profitable. With national monuments essentially synonymous to national parks, monuments too are legally protected from development. Stripping such monuments of this status leaves them vulnerable. Using the Antiquities Act, politicians have utilized such legislation for years to protect acres of public lands, serving as a foundation in American conservation history.
Limited in capability, the Antiquities Act does not give the president authority to overturn national monument designations, but does allow the president to redefine the boundaries of a national monument. With President Trump reinterpreting and redefining such legislation in a narrow view, such indigenous cultures guided by a connection with the land are now overlooked and ignored.
To call such places home and to live life in such awe-inspiring nature is something no person can forget. To ignore the land that supports one is a tragedy in its own right. For no one that has been moved by the great outdoors, holds a fervent passion for the natural world, and acknowledges the land that they call home can overlook such a loss. A monumental mistake has indeed been made.
photos by Elsa Young