SALT LAKE CITY — President Donald Trump’s rare move to shrink two large national monuments in Utah triggered another round of outrage among Native American leaders who vowed to unite and take the fight to court to preserve protections for lands they consider sacred.
Environmental and conservation groups and a coalition of tribes joined the battle Monday and began filing lawsuits that ensure that Trump’s announcement is far from the final chapter of the yearslong public lands battle. The court cases are likely to drag on for years, maybe even into a new presidency.
Trump decided to reduce Bears Ears — created last December by President Barack Obama — by about 85 per cent and Grand Staircase-Escalante — designated in 1996 by President Bill Clinton — by nearly half. The moves earned him cheers from Republican leaders in Utah who lobbied him to undo protections they considered overly broad.
Conservation groups called it the largest elimination of protected land in American history.
The move comes a week after tribal leaders decried Trump for using the name of a historical Native American figure as a slur.
On Nov. 27, Trump used a White House event honouring Navajo Code Talkers to take a political jab at Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat he has derisively nicknamed “Pocahontas” for her claim to have Native American heritage.
“It’s just another slap in the face for a lot of us, a lot of our Native American brothers and sisters,” Navajo Nation Vice-President Jonathan Nez said. “To see that happen a week ago, with disparaging remarks, and now this.”
Trump also overrode tribal objections to approve the Dakota Access and Keystone XL oil pipelines.
The Navajo Nation was one of five tribes that formed a coalition that spent years lobbying Obama to declare Bears Ears to preserve lands home to ancient cliff dwellings and an estimated 100,000 archaeological sites. Native Americans visit the area to perform ceremonies, collect herbs and wood for medicinal and spiritual purposes, and do healing rituals.
A lawsuit from the coalition of the Hopi, Ute Indian, Ute Mountain Ute, Zuni tribes and Navajo Nation was filed late Monday night.