How Native Americans view Biden’s restoration of national monuments Trump shrank

The Biden administration recently restored the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Bears Ears National Monument just ahead of Indigenous Peoples Day. The White House said the move protects land sacred to Native Americans and preserves cultural and scientific wonders. William Brangham reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The Biden administration recently restored three national monuments, just ahead of Indigenous Peoples' Day.

    They include the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, as well as Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears. The White House said the move protects land sacred to Native Americans and preserves cultural and scientific wonders.

    William Brangham has our report.

  • William Brangham:

    Back in 2017, the Trump administration reduced the size of the Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent and cut Grand Staircase-Escalante's size in half. Both are in Utah.

    Those moves were supported by ranchers and Republicans who have long pushed to open the monuments for mining, development and drilling. The Biden administration has been working for months to undo those moves and just announced them on Friday.

    Joining me now is Nick Martin. He's the editor of the indigenous affairs desk at High Country News. He is also a member of the Saponi Tribe in North Carolina.

    Nick Martin, great to have you on the "NewsHour."

    As I mentioned, the Biden administration has been working on this for quite a while, but they announce it right up on the edge of Indigenous Peoples' Day.

    Help us understand, is that timing significant or not?

  • Nick Martin, High Country News:

    I think it is more of a happy accident, let's call it.

    I think it is something that, very clearly, going into the Biden administration, I think tribal leaders had expressed, in terms of our national goals of Indian country, kind of immediate needs of change.

    Bears Ears, the Bears Ears reductions was a major one. And then there were — I think, obviously, with Keystone XL, kind of being the other, I think, major action point that we have seen so far.

    So, yes, definitely on the part of tribal leaders, I know would have loved to see that happen day one or two, but, yes, I do think everybody's quite happy the way it turned out, but also, just in general, that it happened on Indigenous Peoples' Day, we will call it a happy accident in the optimist's version, and a wonderful public policy-playing on the latter.

  • William Brangham:

    For people who don't know what these locations are like and what these places are like, can you just give us a sense of what they are like physically and why they have particular resonance for indigenous peoples?

  • Nick Martin:

    I think both in terms of what they — they hold many things. And so that can mean something as complex as spiritual, important, sacred sites that hold a certain religious importance to the Pueblos, the Ute, the Paiute, the Navajo, Hopi.

    Those are obviously going to be a something that generates a lot of emotional connection point and subsequently is going to be where you try to leverage your political power as well.

    But, also, I mean, I had an opportunity to speak with former chairwoman of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk, on Friday. And she broke it down even, I think, on similar terms for me. This is where her grandmother grew up. This is where her grandmother was taken away from to go to boarding school.

    And when she escaped boarding school, she walked all the way back to the area around Bears Ears, because that's where their ancestors had been for thousands of years. This is — it goes — it's something as simple as a familial connection. But that familial connection is undergirded by thousands of years of ancestral connection to this place.

    So, that can mean the bones of your grandmother and your ancestors. And it's also a place that holds lots of historical knowledge in terms of the petroglyphs and the way that these areas have been — they show, I think, kind of that indigenous ingenuity that has persisted throughout time, since we have been here for time immemorial.

    And it feels like something that protecting that was obviously going — always going to be a major priority for the tribal nations of that region.

  • William Brangham:

    We have — as I mentioned before, the Trump administration undid what the Obama administration has done. Now the Biden administration has undone what the Trump administration did.

    Given that — the tenuous nature of that, plus this — the long history of treaties being signed and then violated by the U.S., is today considered a victory, or is this still considered a sort of fleeting thing that could disappear in a few years' time?

  • Nick Martin:

    I think both of those things.

    We can celebrate the fact that this was an administration recognizing and acting upon its nation-to-nation relationship it holds with the tribal nations of this region. At the same time, I think we can not, I think, e cynical, but be realist, in the sense that if a Republican takes the White House in 2024, then what effectively we have done is played a game of ping-pong for 16 years

    You want policies in place that will hold regardless of who's in office at a given time.

  • William Brangham:

    Virtually all the Republican leadership in Utah, from the governor on down through its congressional delegation, have condemned this move.

    What is it that they don't like about it? And do they have the power to undo this?

  • Nick Martin:

    I think, in the short term, no, it is something that — this executive action that Biden took is going to hold through at least the end of this current term.

    The major reason for kind of upset, it's kind of as you said at the top of the — this segment, which is this is an instance where you have folks who are a little bit more pro-development and very much would prefer to see the land put towards ranching put, towards mining and drilling, and resource extraction and development, opposed to something more of this wider protection area that just creates a lot more amount of kind of hurdles and boundaries for those things to be able to come to fruition.

    So, in the short term, no, but obviously, again, if this is something that is just going to be an executive — at the executive level, not the legislative level, then, yes, I think, within the next six to eight years, you could actually see this just go back to the Trump era cuts.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, Nick Martin of High Country News, thank you so much for being here.

  • Nick Martin:

    Thank you so much for having me.

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