How Trump’s Dismemberment of Bears Ears Was Driven by Racism, Grave Robbery and Mormon Beliefs
By John Dougherty
President Trump's visit to Salt Lake City Monday to sign two orders slashing the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments also included a meeting with Mormon religious leaders who shared "Church doctrine" with the president before he signed the controversial proclamations.
Trump's unprecedented, two-million-acre cut in public land protection was spurred by Mormon political leaders, including Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, and supported by the entire Utah congressional delegation, Utah governor and Utah legislature.
It remains unknown what was discussed when Trump met with the top leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during the closed meeting.
But if Trump had also chosen to sit down with experts such as Thomas Murphy and Angelo Baca, two scholars of American Indian descent who were raised Mormon, he surely would have heard a different perspective on Mormon doctrine from the one offered by church leaders.
Trump would have heard how latent racism, a history of grave robbery beginning with LDS founder Joseph Smith, disrespect of tribal sovereignty and a belief in divine right to the land are at the heart Utah's relentless drive to seize control of federal public lands, particularly Bears Ears.
Murphy and Baca co-authored a 2016 academic paper, "Rejecting Racism in Any Form: Latter-day Saint Rhetoric, Religion and Repatriation," on the history of Mormon theology and its impact on indigenous people.
The paper provides an indigenous interpretation of Mormon history and details how religious scripture has been used to marginalize American Indians, justify the looting of artifacts, and reject tribal sovereignty and rights to petition the federal government to create national monuments such as Bears Ears.
Bob Wick / BLM
The paper acknowledges that the LDS Church has issued statements condemning all forms of racism. But the scholars argue that until the church takes tangible steps to compensate for the racist tenets it held to in the past—steps like returning indigenous artifacts and body parts taken from grave sites—its rejection of racism will continue to ring hollow.
"A fundamental problem for the Latter-day Saint aspiration to move beyond all forms of racism is that the foundation events of this new world faith began with looting indigenous artifacts and graves made possible through the theft of indigenous lands," they wrote in the paper.
"Racism, as experienced by indigenous peoples under colonialism, has often included differential standards in the treatment of the dead and the artifacts they left behind as well as religious justifications for the usurpation of lands," the paper continues. "Mormon scriptures produced in part through the desecration of graves continue to denigrate American Indians and Africans cursed by God with dark skin, while paradoxically claiming that God is 'no respecter of persons.'
"For nearly two centuries these sacred texts have been central to the acquisition of wealth and power in the LDS Church, much of it gained at the expense of indigenous peoples. If racism is truly to be rejected in all of its forms then the LDS Church needs to consider repatriation of indigenous body parts, burial goods, sacred artifacts and stolen lands as an active way to change the current structures of domination and realize its egalitarian aspirations."
The paper chronicles the early history of Mormon founder Joseph Smith in the "money-digging business" in and near Palmyra, New York, in the early 19th century. The business included looking for artifacts in indigenous burials. In 1823 an angel purportedly guided Smith to gold plates, which have never been presented, buried in a hillside near Palmyra.
The gold plates, according to Mormon doctrine, were inscribed with the history of the former inhabitants of North America written in an unknown language described as "reformed Egyptian." The purported translation, said by Smith to have been conducted with a "seer stone"—rocks considered sacred gifts from God—placed in the bottom of a hat, became the Book of Mormon.
Smith would later similarly translate Egyptian papyri that LDS members in Kirkland, Ohio, purchased in 1835 from a businessman who was touring the country displaying mummies and other artifacts. The translation, completed in 1842, became the canonical Mormon text, the Book of Abraham, according to the LDS church.
"The Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham both owe their origins to the practice of grave-robbery, an offense not just today but also at the time of their production," stated Murphy's and Baca's paper.
Murphy is chairman of the anthropology department at Edmonds (Washington) Community College and gained national prominence in 2002 when he published a research paper on DNA analysis that debunked a fundamental Mormon belief that American Indians descended from Israelites. The church ordered him to renounce his paper or face excommunication. He refused, and the church backed down and suspended its excommunication proceedings.
Murphy is of Mohawk descent and Baca is Navajo and Hopi.
Thomas MurphyJohn Dougherty
"The presumption of the right of the settler colonists (to the land) is not unique to Mormons," Murphy told The Revelator. But, he said, what's unique to Mormon settler colonists is that they use scripture to justify their actions.
"When you add a divine sanction to it you get an element of righteous zeal that I think is playing out" in the intense opposition to Bears Ears National Monument from Utah's elected leaders, nearly all of whom are Mormons, he said. "There's not just a righteous zeal, but there's a righteous fury."
The anger is rooted in the fact that the tribes bypassed state and local government and requested President Obama make Bears Ears a national monument. This action came only after years of being closed out on discussions in Utah Rep. Rob Bishop's Public Land Initiative that failed to get out of the House Natural Resources Committee in 2016.
"When the tribes tried to protect these cultural and natural resources by bypassing the local governments and going to the federal government, the Mormons were able to see this as federal overreach instead of seeing it as a tribal sovereignty issue," Murphy said.
Bob Wick / BLM
Trump and his Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke seized on the Utah political leaders' rhetoric of the monument designations as a "federal land grab" meant to "lock up" economic resources. Both monuments include lands that were already controlled by U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, undercutting the federal overreach claim.
When viewed from the American Indian perspective, Trump's decision to gut Bears Ears is another ugly chapter beginning with the white settler colonists who stole their land and killed and displaced millions of their people. The indigenous people that were left after the genocide were confined to reservations where their languages were banned, children sent away to boarding schools, and their indigenous societies were isolated and cut off from commerce and communication with other tribes.
And now, after five tribes (Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute and Unitah Ouray Ute) with a history of conflict came together to successfully petition the federal government to create Bears Ears to protect significant cultural resources, Trump has reneged on a previous president's pledge to preserve the land.
"I'm approving the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase recommendation for you, Orrin," Trump told Hatch in an October phone call, according to CNN. According to Hatch the majority of Utah residents, including American Indians, supported reducing the size of Bears Ears.
Murphy said Hatch is "lying" about tribal support, which is supported by the fact that at least five tribes are preparing to file a joint lawsuit seeking to block Trump's downsizing of Bears Ears.
"(Hatch) seems to be taking on sort of Trumpesque political move of claiming native support for his actions" while ignoring opposition from non-Mormon Indian leaders, Murphy said. "They are being entirely dismissed in favor of one or two Navajo that happened to be Mormon that are supporting this."
Murphy is referring to San Juan County, Utah Commissioner Rebecca Benally who is also a Navajo and is a vehement opponent of Bears Ears. Six of the seven Utah Navajo chapter houses support Bears Ears, as does the Navajo Utah Commission and the Navajo Nation.
Murphy said some Mormons tend to dismiss the legitimacy of non-Mormon American Indians positions because they are often associated as descendants of the Lamanites, who were "cursed" by God with dark skin because they had become wicked, according to LDS teachings. The Lamanites, according to LDS teachings, are the Israelites who are said to have colonized North America around 600 B.C.
"The book of Mormon story gives Mormons license to dismiss native voices and their legitimacy because they see that indigenous people of once having a right to the land, they lost through their own wickedness," Murphy said. Not only were the Lamanites considered wicked, they also annihilated a subset of the original Israelite colonists called Nephites, who were white. LDS teachings assert that "there was an ancient white civilization that was destroyed by the ancestors of the American Indians."
Murphy said Mormon founder Joseph Smith attributed the great cultural artifacts found in North America, including the earthen mounds built by the Mound Builders, to the white Nephites rather than to the ancestors of American Indians. Combine this with Smith's history of grave robbing and Murphy said it's not surprising that some Mormons don't see anything wrong with collecting ancient artifacts off public land, even if it violates federal law.
"They don't see themselves as stealing from Native Americans because they see Native Americans as usurpers of what once belonged to white people," Murphy said. "And that's the story that comes out of the Book of Mormon."
Bear Ears is estimated to have more than 100,000 significant cultural sites. Many sites have already been looted as part of a lucrative trafficking business that has proliferated in southern Utah for more than a century. Some of the most notable artifacts are on display at the Edge of Cedars State Park and Museum in Blanding, Utah.
In a written statement to The Revelator, Baca said: "American Indians are not cursed with a dark skin. We are not morally and ethically cursed by God because we are brown and indigenous." He called on Mormons to "educate themselves on American Indian history, culture and language."
Angelo BacaJohn Dougherty
Baca asked Mormons to truly move past the "racism and discrimination coded as law and order in a deeply unjust-settler-historical system."
He sharply criticized Mormon leaders for hosting Trump. "I believe they have sacrificed their own Mormon values and beliefs in supporting a morally and ethically questionable man."
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
As protests are taking place across our nation in response to the killing of George Floyd, we want to acknowledge the importance of this protest and the Black Lives Matter movement. Over the years, we've aimed to be sensitive and prioritize stories that highlight the intersection between racial and environmental injustice. From our years of covering the environment, we know that too often marginalized communities around the world are disproportionately affected by environmental crises.
- Lead Poisoning Reveals Environmental Racism in the US - EcoWatch ›
- First-of-Its-Kind Study Finds Racial Gap Between Who Causes Air ... ›
- Pollution, Race and the Search for Justice - EcoWatch ›
By Peter Beech
Using waste food to farm insects as fish food and high-tech real-time water quality monitoring: innovations that could help change global aquaculture, were showcased at the World Economic Forum's Virtual Ocean Dialogues 2020.
Fly fishing. nextProtein
BiOceanOr's AquaREAL system. BiOceanOr
- Environmental Innovation Will Transform Business as Usual ... ›
- How an Army of Ocean Farmers Is Starting an Economic Revolution ... ›
The big three broadcast channels failed to cover the disproportionate impacts of extreme weather on low-income communities or communities of color during their primetime coverage of seven hurricanes and one tropical storm over three years, a Media Matters for America analysis revealed.
Researchers at the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly announced yesterday that it will start a trial on a new drug designed specifically for COVID-19, a milestone in the race to stop the infectious disease, according to STAT News.
- Dogs Can Smell COVID-19 - EcoWatch ›
- Drugs Touted by Trump for COVID-19 Increase Heart Risks, Studies ... ›
- Coronavirus Vaccine Candidate Shows Promise in Mice - EcoWatch ›
The sixth mass extinction is here, and it's speeding up.
Terrestrial vertebrates on the brink (i.e., with 1,000 or fewer individuals) include species such as (A) Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis; image credit: Rhett A. Butler [photographer]), (B) Clarion island wren (Troglodytes tanneri; image credit: Claudio Contreras Koob [photographer]), (C) Española Giant Tortoise (Chelonoidis hoodensis; image credit: G.C.), and (D) Harlequin frog (Atelopus varius; the population size of the species is unknown but it is estimated at less than 1,000; image credit: G.C.).
- Humanity 'Sleepwalking Towards the Edge of a Cliff': 60% of Earth's ... ›
- New Border Wall Construction Threatens 8 Species With Extinction ... ›
- The Insect Apocalypse Is Coming: Here Are 5 Lessons We Must Learn ›
By Cathy Cassata
With more than 1.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States and more than 100,000 deaths from the virus, physicians face unprecedented challenges in their efforts to keep Americans safe.
They also encounter what some call an "infodemic," an outbreak of misinformation that's making it more difficult to treat patients.
When Leaders and Doctors Spread Misinformation<p>When people in charge of towns, cities, states, and countries spread misinformation, the potential for belief in misinformation to result in policies can have harmful effects.</p><p><a href="https://www.northwell.edu/find-care/find-a-doctor?q=Bruce+E.+Hirsch%2C+MD&insurance=&location=&query_type=provider&physician_partners=false&default_view=list&gender=&language=&sort=relevancy" target="_blank">Dr. Bruce E. Hirsch</a>, attending physician and assistant professor in the infectious disease division of Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York, says an example of this is when President Trump informed the public he was taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure.</p><p>"To approach this enormous challenge, we need some intellectual honesty and clarity, and to disregard expertise and to make decisions and model decisions based on hunches is inviting us to handle challenges on the basis of rumor and uninformed opinion. The magnitude of that error is epic," Hirsch told Healthline.</p><p>Stukus agrees, noting that the harm of this proclamation is documented.</p><p>"Early on when the president touted the benefits of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, people started to hoard this medicine, and state boards had to shut it down because they were getting so many prescriptions for this unproven therapy that it was not available for those who truly needed it, such as those who have lupus and autoimmune conditions," Stukus said.</p><p>He adds that calls to poison control centers increased after the president suggested using disinfectant to prevent contracting the new coronavirus.</p>
Listen to Science, Even When it Changes<p>When recommendations change or evidence flip-flops, skepticism may arise. However, Stukus says change is the beauty of science.</p><p>"That shows us that we can evolve, and if the evidence shows that our prior thoughts were incorrect, we need to be able to change our recommendations and advice based upon the best quality of evidence at the time," he said.</p><p>Pierre agrees.</p><p>"Science is an iterative process, whereby we arrive at facts and truth through repeated and controlled observations. That means that it's inherently self-correcting as we revise conclusions based on ongoing research. Scientific facts aren't immutable dogma chiseled on a tablet. They change based on the best available evidence we have at a given point in time," he said.</p><p>Because research of COVID-19 has only been underway for 6 months, information is evolving rapidly, and new information may contradict old.</p><p>"There's still much we don't know about exactly how [COVID-19] spreads, what effects it has on the body, or how to best treat it. That means that the best available evidence is preliminary, but that doesn't mean that we should ignore it or turn to other sources of information or opinion as if they're just as valid," Pierre said.</p><p>He explains that conspiracy theories based on mistrust lead to vulnerability to misinformation.</p><p>If people mistrust science because it sometimes "changes its mind," Pierre said, "that shouldn't be used to embrace other opinions based on no evidence at all, which are typically selected based on confirmation bias: what we want to believe rather than what the objective evidence supports."</p>
Where to Find the Best Information<p>Stukus says to start with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html" target="_blank">CDC</a> and <a href="https://www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus" target="_blank">NIH</a>. Then check with your local health officials, because COVID-19 guidelines may vary depending on where you live.</p><p>If you can't find information you need or have questions specifically related to you, call your primary care doctor.</p><p>"Your personal doctor should always be a resource for individual specific questions because they know best how to apply all the nuances retaining to your health, and how to incorporate all the other general [COVID-19] recommendations," Stukus said.</p><p><a href="https://www.eehealth.org/find-a-doctor/b/boyd-laura-b/" target="_blank">Dr. Laura Boyd</a>, primary care physician at Edward-Elmhurst Health Center in Elmhurst, Illinois, says her clinic receives a lot of calls about COVID-19.</p><p>"Most doctors' offices are receiving calls and answering questions, and doing phone or video visits to help clarify and/or order testing over the phone based on patients' symptoms. It is always best to call your doctor's office first instead of worrying about symptoms and waiting too long to seek treatment," she told Healthline.</p><p>If your primary care doctor has limited testing, she suggests looking on your state's public health website for available testing sites.</p><p>With a lot of unknowns related to this virus and disease, Boyd says many patients are feeling overwhelmed and anxious for a treatment.</p><p>"Unfortunately, there is no specific medication recommended for COVID for outpatient. There are a lot of ongoing studies with various drugs going on within the hospital setting. Patients should always contact their doctors about their specific symptoms as they can treat the symptoms that go along with COVID, but there is no cure," Boyd said.</p><p>While we wait for treatment and a vaccine, Hirsch, who treats patients hospitalized for COVID-19 complications on a daily basis, says everyone can do their part by washing hands, wearing a mask, and staying 6 feet apart.</p><p>"As an infectious disease doctor working in the hospital, I see the damage of the pandemic and the worst cases of what's happening. We are trying to get the best possible outcome and confronting this overwhelming biologic reality of this terrible epidemic the best we can," Hirsch said.</p><p>Everyone at home can help in the fight too, he adds.</p><p>"Follow information that is science- and evidence-based, and avoid that which is not," he said.</p>
- WHO Declares Global Health Emergency as Coronavirus Cases ... ›
- Here's What We Know About Ibuprofen and COVID-19 - EcoWatch ›
- Trump's Budget Plan: A Push for Even Greater Environmental ... ›
- Trump Pushed for Mining Project That Could Destroy Alaska Salmon ... ›