Five Tribes File Complaint Against Trump Administration to Protect Bears Ears Monument

By Ayana Byrd Dec 05, 2017

The five Indigenous tribes who initially formed a coalition to get federal designation for the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah have filed a complaint to fight the drastic size reductions the Trump administration announced yesterday (December 4).

The complaint was jointly filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia by the Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, Zuni Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe and Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe. It asserts that Trump‘s intention to reduce the size of Bears Ears by approximately 85 percent is unconstitutional and in violation of the Antiquities Act. Per a press release sent by the Navajo Nation:

Under the Constitution, Congress has exclusive authority to make decisions regarding property belonging to the United States. Through the Antiquities Act, Congress delegated to the President the limited authority to designate National Monuments and retained to itself the power to revoke or modify National Monuments.  The Proclamation signed by President Trump today is so extreme that it revokes and replaces Bears Ears and thereby violates the Antiquities Act and seizes authority that the Constitution vests solely in Congress. The Tribes argue this overreach by the President should be declared unlawful and be enjoined to prevent its implementation.

Bears Ears was targeted for reduction in August, per a recommendation made by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Through an executive order,  Trump tasked Zinke with reviewing the Antiquities Act, focusing on all national monument designations awarded after 1996 with areas that are at least 100,000 acres. Supporters who back reducing the size of Bears Ears argue that the move will allow for commercial activities that are now off-limits. Opponents believe that the size reduction will endanger and destroy cultural artifacts and sacred lands. According to the five Tribes coalition, the monument contains more than 100,000 Native American archeological and cultural sites. 

“Bears Ears has been home to Native peoples since time immemorial,” said Ethel Branch, attorney for the Navajo Nation, in a press release. “The actions taken by President Trump have exposed Bears Ears to devastating damage. President Trump states he consulted with Native peoples, but if that were true, the five Tribes would not be filing this complaint. Our leadership has been unified in its opposition to any changes to the Monument and in its commitment to defending the monument.”

The Navajo Nation has created a GoFundMe to collect funds for its legal defense effort. “What the president has purported to do is outside the scope of his authority,” Branch told reporters Monday after Trump’s announcement. "We think the law is clear."