In what they call a historic move, Navajo, Ute, Ute Mountain, Hopi, Zuni and Pueblo tribes joined to sue President Donald Trump over his proclamation that reduced Bears Ears National Monument by nearly 1 million acres, then split it in half to form two smaller monuments with different names.
The joint lawsuit was filed in federal court in Washington, hours after President Trump stopped in Utah to make the announcement.
“It’s just another slap in the face for a lot of us,” said Jonathan Nez, Vice President of the Navajo Nation.
Shaun Chapoose, Ute Tribe Council Member, said the President’s action on Bears Ears is an attack on Native Americans. He doesn’t blame the President alone.
He said Utah’s representatives in Congress pushed the plan to do away with the monument designation which would have protected the land for all Americans.
“For some reason, they want to fight. I’m here to tell you if it’s a fight they want, it’s a fight they’ll get,” he added.
While some members of the Navajo Nation in San Juan County supported the shrinking of the monument and were part of the President’s invitation-only audience at the state capitol for his announcement, Chapoose and other tribal leaders said the President did not make attempts to consult with leaders of the sovereign tribal nations.
Ester Branch, Attorney General for the Navajo Nation, said just like President Trump consulted with Utah State leaders about the matter, he should have consulted with tribal leaders.
The Navajo Nation and Ute lands border the original 1.3 million acre Bears Ears monument.
Navajo people say it’s the land of their ancestors and they consider it sacred because it still houses important, historical artifacts that are being vandalized and looted.
“For some reason, a lot of non-native friends think that our cultural items are for sale,” said Nez.
Branch said the lawsuit will argue that the Antiquities Act, which President Obama invoked in order to declare the Bears Ears Monument, does not give President Trump the right to undo it.
“There’s no room for a subsequent President to second guess that authority,” she said noting that any changes to the monument should be made by Congress.
Branch said in addition to filing the lawsuit, the tribal leaders are considering filing an injunction to stop President Trump’s order because his proclamation allows for mineral mining leases to be sold in 60 days.