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Tim Peterson / NRDC

Trump to Shrink Bears Ears in Utah Monday as Protectors Gather to Defend the Sacred

By Rhea Suh

It wasn't enough to hijack a ceremony to honor Navajo code talkers so he could deride a U.S. senator as "Pocahontas." President Trump now plans to go to Utah on Monday to decimate the Bears Ears National Monument, public land that's sacred to five tribes of Native Americans.

Not content to relegate a historic figure to a partisan punch line, Trump is poised to build on a shameful legacy of betraying indigenous Americans. He is breaking a solemn promise to forever safeguard ancestral lands that speak to vital parts of our country's history.


He reportedly intends to shrink the Bears Ears monument from more than one million acres to a mere 200,000 and to similarly gut the nearby Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. And he aims to expose hundreds of thousands of acres of these lands to destructive industrial mining and drilling that profit the few at the expense of the many.

That formula increasingly defines the Trump agenda. It strikes at the very ideals of equity and government by the people that sustain our notions of nationhood. In this case, it also revives an acutely painful injustice to the original American people. Wresting land from tribes was disgraceful in the 19th century. We're not about to countenance it now.

During Monday's White House ceremony to honor the heroism of the Navajo code talkers—who used their native language as the basis for a secret code that helped the U.S. Marines prevail in some of the bloodiest fighting in World War II—Trump used the occasion to scorn Senator Elizabeth Warren, calling her "Pocahontas." He managed in a single blundering stroke to offend the dignity of the event, mock Warren's claim to Native American heritage and belittle a woman of great importance in our nation's history.

"Pocahontas is a real person ... not a caricature," Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye told CNN. "This is a person, a young lady and Native American woman, that played a critical role in the life of this nation."

Much of what is believed about Pocahontas comes from the accounts of English settlers. Captain John Smith wrote in his memoirs that she twice saved the first permanent English settlement in America, at Jamestown. According to accounts by him and others, Pocahontas spent much of her life trying to bridge the conflicting transatlantic worlds of her native Powhatan people and the English invaders.

It is documented that she was the first Native American known to have married an Englishman. She gave birth to the first English-American child of record. And she crossed the Atlantic to bolster flagging investor support in London for the foundering English colony in Virginia. Without Pocahontas, by the settlers' own telling, Jamestown would have failed.

It's bad enough Trump doesn't know history. His plans, now, have echoes of one of the most shameful chapters in our past.

The lands of southeastern Utah have been home to indigenous peoples for thousands of years. It's a majestic region of sandstone canyons, desert mesas, forested highlands and red rock formations. One area in particular, named for twin buttes that resemble the ears of a bear, contains ancient cliff dwellings, rock art and more than 100,000 other archaeological, cultural and spiritual sites. They attest to varied and diverse American civilizations that existed long before the first Europeans arrived.

That's why President Obama created Bears Ears National Monument, setting aside 1.35 million acres of public land for special protections meant to preserve this special place for all time.

Remember, this is public land, protected in the public interest―and in this case, with a twist. The indigenous people whose ancestors lived on Bears Ears lands have a direct say in the monument's management and long-term planning. The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition is made up of leaders from the Hopi Nation, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah Ouray and the Pueblo of Zuni. It makes sense to tap into the wisdom and experience of people who've known these lands for centuries.

Native peoples have a voice, and we all have a stake, in the lasting preservation of Bears Ears. That's why, since Trump first hinted at carving up Bears Ears, more than a million public comments have poured in to support this unique monument.

If history is the conversation we have with the past, we need to listen closely. Trump, though, is listening to industry's version, not the American people's. Well, he won't get away with it. The Antiquities Act of 1906 gives presidents the authority to designate national monuments. It does not empower them to slice up monuments designated by others. If Trump tries to do that to Bears Ears, we and others will take him to court.

And we'll carry with us the inspiration of patriots like Peter MacDonald, who was 15 years old when he volunteered to become one of the 400 Navajo code talkers serving our country. Today, he's one of 13 still alive to tell their story. "What we did truly represents who we are as Americans," MacDonald said at Monday's White House ceremony. "We have different languages, different skills, different talents and different religion. But when our way of life is threatened, like the freedom and liberty that we all cherish, we come together as one."

And we will come together as one in the next few days, with our community partners, to block any illegal attempt by this president to eviscerate protections for Bears Ears.

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Earth Day Tips From the EcoWatch Team

At EcoWatch, every day is Earth Day. We don't just report news about the environment—we aim to make the world a better place through our own actions. From conserving water to cutting waste, here are some tips and tricks from our team on living mindfully and sustainably.

Lorraine Chow, reporter

Favorite Product: Dr. Bronner's Castile soap

It's Earth-friendly, lasts for months and can be used as soap, shampoo, all-purpose cleaner and even mouthwash (but I wouldn't recommend that).

Essential Tool: Blender

It has paid for itself in homemade smoothies, soups, sauces and dips. It also means I don't have to buy those individual foods in unnecessary plastic containers. Blending scraps helps your compost, too!

Earth Day Tip: Skip the straw

If you feel weird about saying "no straw" at restaurants, just tell the waiter that you're allergic to plastic.

Olivia Rosane, reporter

Favorite Product: Seventh Generation products

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Essential Tool: My portable thermos

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Earth Day Tip: Get involved

In 2012, researcher Brad Werner ran a computer model and found our best shot at combating climate change was for people to form a mass social movement to demand it. So if you're worried about the environment, reach out to other people in your community and talk about what you can do together to make a difference!

Tara Bracco, managing editor

Favorite Product: Collapsible water bottle

Whether you're traveling or running errands, a reusable water bottle that's light and compact will help keep you hydrated and keep you from buying bottled water.

Essential Tool: Backpack

It's great for carrying your groceries home from the store, and you won't have to use plastic bags. If you have a long shopping list, try a rolling suitcase.

Earth Day Tip: Don't waste water

Turn off the water while you brush your teeth. It can save eight gallons of water a day!

Chris McDermott, news editor

Favorite Product: Clothes from Patagonia

Patagonia makes a wide range of inspired products and their environmental policies are world class. They use only organic cotton in their clothes, and they even offer trade-ins, recycling and repairs at any time.

Essential Tool: RIVER mobile power station and solar generator

This powerful piece of mind is always ready regardless of storms and travel, for as long as one can tap the sun.

Earth Day Tip: Savor something vegan

There's no nutritional substitute for fresh, unprocessed food, but food science has revolutionized the taste and texture of vegan alternatives. For the pure delight of it, celebrate with Miyoko's Kitchen vegan cheese, Tofurky Italian sausage (30 grams of protein per serving!) and SoDelicious non-dairy dark chocolate truffle frozen dessert made with cashew milk.

Irma Omerhodzic, associate editor

Favorite Product: Living Libations's Everybody Loves the Sunshine

Unlike sunscreen, this skin product works with the sun and helps absorb the nutrients from the sun's rays while giving skin protection at the same time.

"Rather than being afraid of the sun, harmonize with it," Living Libations says. Love it!

Essential Tool: My bike

Not only is this an emission-free way to get around town, but it also gives my body the activity it needs.

Earth Day Tip: Start small

Your one "small" action isn't small at all.

Jordan Simmons, social media coordinator

Favorite Product: Sustainable clothing by Amanda Sage Collection

Designer Lana Gurevich uses patterns from Amanda's transformative paintings to create an ethically and environmentally conscious clothing line. While supporting local businesses and an eco-friendly printing method, the fabrics are made from 100 percent recycled plastic bottles.

Essential Tool: My paintbrush and set of mineral paints

I found the all natural, biodegradable mineral paints at a local farmers' market in the Sacred Valley of Peru. I used to favor working with acrylic paints until I learned about their high carbon footprint and harmful substances.

Earth Day Tip: Honor Mother Earth

Gather some of Mother Nature's gifts such as stones, beautiful dried leaves and feathers. Set them in a special place in your home to create a unique "altar" to remind you to honor your Mother each and every day. Find peace and blessings in loving our home—the earth.

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