Resident of Torrey, Utah and Chair of the Mormon Environmental Stewardship Alliance Ty Markham said of the decision, “President Trump took away some of Utah’s greatest treasures. Public lands hold our collective memory of our spiritual, cultural, and natural heritage. They are places of Sabbath where we learn, play, and pray. We have witnessed a lack of reverence for the sacred.”
President Trump’s decision puts tens of thousands of Native American sacred sites in southern Utah at renewed risk of looting and vandalism. It also threatens wildlife habitats, archeological sites, and breathtaking natural landscapes.
President Trump’s reduction of Bears Ears National Monument is particularly an affront to Native Americans. Designated in December 2016 by President Obama with strong religious community support, the Bears Ears National Monument was the result of the leadership of the Hopi, Navajo, Ute Indian, Ute Mountain Ute, and Zuni. Obama’s proclamation establishing the monument created the Bears Ears Commission of Tribes, an advisory body of appointees from five tribes with ancestral ties to the Bears Ears region. In the Commission’s first meeting in March 2017, it explicitly requested the Trump Administration work closely with them, and uphold existing protections for the monument.
When it became clear the Trump Administration was failing to take tribal leaders seriously, numerous high-level religious leaders, including the heads of the Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Presbyterian Church (USA), wrote to Secretary Zinke urging him to listen to the Bears Ears Commission of Tribes’ recommendation to uphold the monument.
Rev. Judy Wellington, Akilmel O’odham and Dakota (Sioux), minister with the Presbyterian Synod of the Southwest, was part of an Indigenous Christian delegation that advocated for the preservation of Bears Ears National Monument with officials in Washington, DC. She said, “This action highlights an inability to honor what we thought was an improvement in relationship with our tribal nations. It is sad to see such disregard for the good work that established the Bears Ears National Monument and the Bears Ears Commission of Tribes.”
Tribal leaders were quick to respond to Trump’s actions with a collective and forceful rebuke, and they plan to sue the Trump Administration. Their statement points out:
“The national monument took more than 80 years to designate. The original proclamation by President Obama acknowledges a cultural landscape rich in antiquities, with hundreds of thousands of archaeological and cultural sites sacred to dozens of tribes. President Trump’s proposal to shrink the Bears Ears National Monument leaves tens of thousands of sacred sites vulnerable to looting and grave robbing—the very threats the Antiquities Act was designed to protect against—as well as to fossil fuel development and uranium mining.”
Creation Justice Ministries Executive Director Shantha Ready Alonso said of the decision, “President Trump’s actions show great disrespect for our nation’s heritage and for tribes. Although President Trump’s actions cause our communities deep grief, we will continue to do all we can to stand with Indigenous peoples, as well as to protect, restore, and more rightly share God’s creation.”
Creation Justice Ministries is an ecumenical organization representing the creation care policies of 38 Christian traditions, including Mainline Protestant, Historically Black, Orthodox Christian, Baptist, and Peace Churches.