Native Americans and colonizers had one thing in common, their awe for America’s land.
“We need the tonic of wildness…,” early American author Henry David Thoreau said. “At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable.”
It has been a tradition for the President of the United States to protect a reserve, landmark or park in order to preserve American nature.
President Donald Trump is already unraveling the work of previous presidents by making these protected national reserves vulnerable.
The “Presidential Executive Order on the Review of Designations Under the Antiquities Act” established by Trump sounds unassuming, but it may lead to the destruction of land Native Americans consider sacred and historically significant.
The Antiquities Act was signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt to protect America’s wildlife and land in 1906.
By “reviewing” the designations, Trump is attempting to change the borders of national reserves, which are meant to be permanent.
The goal of the Antiquities Act was to preserve the land indefinitely, not to keep them safe temporarily until someone else decided to destroy them.
This act opens critique on all national preserves/landmarks. They will be assessed on their historical significance, size, and most notably “available uses of Federal lands”.
This means that if Trump decides Yosemite is more useful as a source of resources, like oil, he can strip the landmark of its protections and open it to drilling. Or lodging. Or mining.
National reserves may be open to lodging and fishing, and there is no greater insult to America’s natural beauty than desecrating it and erecting a Trump hotel on top of it.
The last determining factor listed on the new act is “such other factors as the Secretary deems appropriate,” which sounds so vague it is dangerous.
“The president does not have the legal authority to shrink the boundaries of these treasured national monuments — period,” Drew Caputo, vice president for Earthjustice, said in a statement.
There are some protections in place, such as the consideration of the land’s effects on localities and native peoples, but Trump has already shown how much he respects indigenous peoples.
Last year, Trump fought for the Keystone Dakota Access pipeline against the people of Standing Rock and other protesters who wanted to protect the land and its water.
People came to North Dakota from across the country to protest, but still the oil pipeline was made.
At 6 a.m. Nov. 16, the Keystone Pipeline leaked 210,000 gallons of oil across South Dakota, which is exactly what protesters said would happen last year.
Despite the concerns of Native Americans and environmentalists, and despite the recent oil spill, the $8 billion Keystone XL pipeline route was approved in Nebraska Nov. 20.
The process of destroying national landmarks is already happening. Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Native American reserves in Utah are already being minimized.
Bears Ears was designated by President Barack Obama in 2016 in order to protect the abundant Native American artifacts and rock paintings there.
It will be reduced by 90 percent.
Utah Senator Orrin Hatch’s spokesperson told CNN that Trump relayed to him plans to minimize the site at recommendation of Ryan Zinke.
Zinke is secretary of the interior and a businessman that has been pushing for the reassessment of 12 national monuments. He also likes to wear moccasins as he strategies how to rob native people of their remaining ancestral land.
Attorney general Ethel Branch, who is Navajo, told the Washington Post that the site was the birthplace of respected leaders and is still being used for its natural herbs by tribes today.
Places like Bears Ears were uniquely untouched, they showed how America truly was before colonizers made their marks and began erasing the history of all things native.
These places are not just bundles of trees, they are sights that native peoples pray to their ancestors and celebrate their culture, they are glimpses of another time.
There is past and present spirituality in these patches of nature. People are still trying to save Bears Ears.
Many might not recognize Bears Ears, so they do not think it is significant. Surely the more important places are safe.
Like the Grand Canyon. Right?
Mining for uranium is getting closer and closer to the Grand Canyon’s borders compromising polluting the Colorado river. GrandCanyonTrust.org says more than 40 million people rely on the river for safe water.
For decades the villains of our stories have been tyrants and billionaires that use their power to destroy land for their greed, but this is not fiction. Trump would gladly turn America’s natural land into his own personal golf course and let his sons slaughter all its wild animals for sport if he could.
But American citizens could stop this.
Trump announced that hunters could bring elephant trophies back to the U.S. from Africa, which sparked public outcry from environmentalist, animal rights groups, and concerned citizens. Nov. 17 Trump tweeted that he “Put big game trophy decision on hold…”
This is a sliver of hope that the American people can use their voice to protect national treasures.
If you haven’t been to a national park, start planning now. Being enveloped in trees older than American government and seeing the land that native American tribes called home might give you a wider perspective. It might make you feel small, or peaceful, or powerful.
The land and its animals were here before colonizers. We as Americans need to respect native land and people by standing up to greed. Before America, in all its natural majesty, is gone.