President Joe Biden announced an executive order to restore protections to three national monuments on Oct. 8 that were previously downsized or completely stripped of protections by former President Donald Trump. This order came with the support of U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland as well as an intention to restore ties with the wronged Indigenous tribes whose land and, consequently, cultures were previously cut down.
During his presidency, Trump issued presidential proclamations downsizing two of Utah’s national monuments: Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante protections were cut from approximately 1.3 million acres to 228,000 acres and approximately 1.9 million acres to 1 million acres, respectively. The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument in New England had its protections removed entirely in the same proclamation.
Following Trump’s proclamations, five Native tribes — Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, Ute Indian Tribe and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe — announced their intent to sue for the reversal of the downsizing to protect their land and the culture embedded within it. Although several started the process to sue, the trials were put on hold with Biden’s initial executive order from January to review Trump’s decision to downsize and remove protections on the monuments.
Now, the Biden administration is taking steps to right this slight to both the environment and the Indigenous people who steward the land.
“Today’s announcement, it’s not just about national monuments,” Haaland said during her remarks at the White House. “It’s about this administration centering the voices of Indigineous people and affirming the shared stewardship of this landscape with tribal nations.”
The announcement also aligns with Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda: a multi-faceted plan to provide jobs and opportunities to save money for the American people, promising tax cuts and investments in public land and educational programs, among other things.
“This may be the easiest thing I’ve ever done so far as president,” Biden said in the announcement.
Biden explained that he is seeking to restore the conservationist values exemplified in the work of former President Theodore Roosevelt, and he cited Roosevelt’s various environmental protections as commendable models for the work Biden aspires to complete in his time in office, such as the Antiquities Act.
“These protections provide a bridge to our past, but they also build a bridge to a safer, more sustainable future — one where we strengthen our economy and pass on a healthy planet to our children and our grandchildren,” Biden said.
Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda will continue moving forward, tackling other environmental and cultural issues with his administration as well as targeting tax inequity and the welfare of American families.
“For Hopi, this is a significant step forward and the Biden administration did make some commitments to listen to Native America and Biden’s actions do prove that it is happening,” said Timothy L. Nuvangyaoma, chairman of the Hopi Tribe, in a statement to Indian Country Today. “We do need to protect these sacred sites that not only the Hopi Tribe but other tribes find significant within their history.”
Natalie Jude is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @natalaroni