Category Archives: Sacred Sites

Red Alert: SAVE BEARS EARS, Last Day to Comment

Utah Dine Bikeyah
Photo credit: Utah Diné Bikéyah.

      On April 26, 2017, President Trump issued an Executive Order on the Review of Designations Under the Antiquities Act (EO 13792), which calls for a review of all Presidential National Monument designations and expansions of these designations made since January 1, 1996. Within 45 days of the Executive Order, Secretary of the Interior Zinke is to provide an Interim Report to the President, and within 120 days, Secretary Zinke is to send in the final report to the President of the United States. Review of National Monuments may present a significant threat to sacred lands contained within them, and could open these National Monuments up to energy development, public access, harmful recreational activity, and mining that could have severe impacts on historic, environmental, and cultural resources. Bears Ears National Monument was the only National Monument specifically mentioned in the Executive Order and, as compared to the other National Monuments, it was granted only a two week public comment period. Public comments on Bears Ears National Monument end May 26, 2017.


Angelo Baca Bears Ears
Members of Utah Diné Bikéyah discuss Bears Ears National Monument. Photo credit: Angelo Baca.

The Secretary of the Interior has been directed by the Presidential Executive Order to consider the following:

(i)    the requirements and original objectives of the Act, including the Act’s requirement that reservations of land not exceed “the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected”;
(ii)   whether designated lands are appropriately classified under the Act as “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, [or] other objects of historic or scientific interest”;
(iii)  the effects of a designation on the available uses of designated Federal lands, including consideration of the multiple-use policy of section 102(a)(7) of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (43 U.S.C. 1701(a)(7)), as well as the effects on the available uses of Federal lands beyond the monument boundaries;
(iv)   the effects of a designation on the use and enjoyment of non-Federal lands within or beyond monument boundaries;
(v)    concerns of State, tribal, and local governments affected by a designation, including the economic development and fiscal condition of affected States, tribes, and localities;
(vi)   the availability of Federal resources to properly manage designated areas; and
(vii)  such other factors as the Secretary deems appropriate.
82 FR 20429-20430 (May 1, 2017).

Historically, no President to-date has ever taken away a National Monument designation or reduced the size of a National Monument. Legal experts question the authority that the President has under the Antiquities Act to reduce or revoke National Monument designations, claiming that this would require Congressional action.  Senator Udall (D-NM), the Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, tweeted on April 26, 2017, “The President doesn’t have the legal authority to rescind a national monument designation.” In his press release, Udall further stated, “As a member of the Appropriations and Indian Affairs committees, I will fight to protect and elevate these cherished monuments, and I won’t stand by if the Trump administration tries to open the door to selling them off to the highest bidder.”

     On May 5, 2017, the Department of the Interior (DOI) released a list of affected National Monuments. The National Monuments currently under review include the following:

  • Basin and Range (NV, 2015) (703,585 acres)
  • Bears Ears (UT, 2016) (1,353,000 acres)
  • Berryessa Snow Mountain (CA, 2015) (330,780 acres)
  • Canyons of the Ancients (CO, 2000) (175,160 acres)
  • Carrizo Plain (CA, 2001) (204,107 acres)
  • Cascade Siskiyou (OR, 2000/2017) (100,000 acres)
  • Craters of the Moon (ID, 1924/2000) (737,525 acres)
  • Giant Sequoia (CA, 2000) (327,760 acres)
  • Gold Butte (NV, 2016) (296,937 acres)
  • Grand Canyon-Parashant (AZ, 2000) (1,014,000 acres)
  • Grand Staircase-Escalanta (UT, 1996) (1,700,000 acres)
  • Hanford Reach (WA, 2000) (194,450.93 acres)
  • Ironwood Forest (AZ, 2000) (128,917 acres)
  • Mojave Trails (CA, 2016) (1,600,000 acres)
  • Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks (NM, 2014) (496,330 acres)
  • Rio Grande del Norte (NM, 2013) (242,555 acres)
  • Sand to Snow (CA, 2016) (154,000 acres)
  • San Gabriel Mountains (CA, 2014) (346,177 acres)
  • Sonoran Desert (AZ, 2001) (486,149 acres)
  • Upper Missouri River Breaks (MT, 2001) (377,346 acres)
  • Vermillion Cliffs (AZ, 2000) (279,568 acres)
  • Katahadin Woods and Waters (ME, 2016) (87,563 acres)
  • Marianas Trench (Pacific Ocean, 2009) (60,938,240 acres)
  • Northeast Canyons and Seamounts (Atlantic Ocean, 2016) (3,114,320 acres)
  • Pacific Remote Islands (Pacific Ocean, 2009) (55,608,320 acres)
  • Papahanaumokuakea (HI/Pacific Ocean, 2006/2016) (89,600,000 acres)
  • Rose Atoll (American Samoa/Pacific Ocean, 2009) (8,609,045 acres)

Tribes across the United States are calling for government-to-government consultations. At a press conference on May 3, 2017, the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, consisting of representatives from the Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute, and the Pueblo of Zuni, spoke on the importance of protecting their Ancestral lands. Pueblo of Zuni representative and Co-Chair of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, Carlton Bowekaty, stated:

“I believe it is our duty to protect the traditional cultural knowledge that exists on Bears Ears National Monument. The reason why Bears Ears region is important to the Zuni People is because we have ancestral ties there. It is our belief that by reconnecting to our past, reconnecting with our language to these areas of cultural importance, that we bring balance to the world.”

Significant tribal cultural resources exist within Bears Ears–including sacred lands, burial grounds, medicinal plant growth areas, and many other tangible and intangible resources. These cultural resources would be in danger if the size of Bears Ears National Monument were reduced or designation was taken away.

Natasha Hale
Natasha Hale advocates for Bears Ears National Monument and co-management of the site among the tribes. Photo credit: Angelo Baca.

     The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition was established among the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute, Ute Indian Tribe, and Pueblo of Zuni to advocate for a National Monument designation and to protect the tribal cultural resources therein through co-management of the area. Working tirelessly to achieve these objectives, the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition submitted a proposal and President Obama designated Bears Ears a National Monument in December, 2016. Now, the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition and the tribes involved are seeking government-to-government tribal consultations with Secretary Zinke during this federal review, which should occur in addition to  the comparatively short public commentary period that is open to the general public.

    Written public comments specifically on Bears Ears will be accepted until May 26, 2017 (see Federal Register Notice). All other written comments on National Monuments will be accepted by mail or online until July 10, 2017.  To submit comments, go to and enter “DOI-2017-0002” in the search bar, or mail comments to Monument Review, MS-1530, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240.” The Department of the Interior seeks public comments on:

(1) Whether national monuments in addition to those listed above should be reviewed  because they were designated or expanded after January 1, 1996 “without adequate public outreach and coordination with relevant stakeholders;” and (2) the application of factors (i) through (vii) set forth above to the listed national monuments or to other Presidential designations or expansions of designations meeting the criteria of the Executive Order. With respect to factor (vii), comments should address other factors the Secretary might consider for this review.

For information on writing public comments please see the Federal Register Tutorial by the National Archives, Cornell University’s Regulation Room “What’s Effecting Commenting?”, and other resources provided by Turtle Talk. To read more about Bears Ears and its significance as a National Monument site, please see the information provided by the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition and Utah Diné Bikéyah, which also both provide opportunities to submit public comments.


Acoma Pueblo, International Repatriation Project (AAIA) Oppose Another Eve Auction House Sale of Indigenous Cultural Items

Washington, D.C., May 24, 2016–The Pueblo of Acoma, Association on American Indian Affairs (International Repatriation Project), NCAI and others will be giving statements today opposing an upcoming sale of Indigenous sacred items and objects of cultural patrimony on May 30, 2016, in Paris, at Eve Auction House. Statements will be webcast from the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) at 3:30 p.m. EST.

“Circumstances surrounding the taking of our Ancestors and cultural items were often horrific, against Indigenous laws, and continue to take place illegally […]” states Honor Keeler (Cherokee Nation), the founding Director of the International Repatriation Project. “AAIA urges auction houses and collectors to consult with Native American governments, Indigenous repatriation experts, and Indigenous spiritual and medicine leaders whenever Indigenous items are suggested for sale.”

Meaningful consultation is at the heart of repatriation, and it is more than a mere 3-5 minute statement, but involves ongoing dialogue with Native Nations and Indigenous spiritual leaders. Consultation has been integral to repatriation procedures in the United States for over 25 years, and thousands of Native American Ancestors, funerary objects, sacred objects, cultural patrimony have been repatriated as a result. International Repatriation is also called for in the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“Consultation and repatriation will avoid future litigation,” states Keeler, “and for the items that are legitimately being sold, buyers will be ensured of not only complying with proper cultural protocols and ensuring they were not stolen, but of their authenticity. In fact, dialogue with tribal communities may even add provenance and value to legitimately held items…Unfortunately, without the authentication from a tribal representative, buyer beware! A buyer cannot be certain what they are purchasing is authentic. Even the most knowledgeable auction houses often do not know tribal histories, which are contained within tribal communities. Furthermore, the publications that auction houses use to educate themselves are severely lacking and often incorrect.” Keeler reiterated, “Indigenous Peoples are the experts of their own cultures.”

 Central to the press conference today is the Eve Auction sale of Pueblo sacred items and cultural patrimony set to take place on May 30, 2016. Acoma Pueblo opposes the sale of its sacred items and cultural patrimony. In a May 13, 2016, letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, and Attorney General of the United States Loretta Lynch, the Acoma Pueblo states, “Under Pueblo of Acoma traditional law, it is illegal for any tribal member, who may have an item of cultural patrimony in their care, to sell or remove an item of Acoma cultural patrimony. This traditional law has been recognized by federal courts in New Mexico and Arizona.” Similarly, the United States criminalizes the actions of looters under its federal laws, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

There is also broad Intertribal support across Native Nations in the U.S. to put an end to this practice, including several resolutions passed by the National Congress of American Indians, United South and Eastern Tribes, All Pueblo Council of Governors, and the Intertribal Council of Five Civilized Tribes who are opposed to international sales of Native American Ancestors, funerary objects, sacred objects, and cultural patrimony, and call forth Articles 11 and 12 of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and traditional laws. All of these efforts have been achieved through the work of the grassroots and Indigenous Working Group on International Repatriation, which advises the AAIA International Repatriation Project.

The Indigenous Elders and Medicine Peoples Council has also issued a formal statement opposing the sale and transfer of Native American Ancestors and cultural items.  They state, “We, Aboriginal Indigenous Peoples, respect the sacredness of life on this land. The newcomers have not shown respect or understanding for our sacred way of life. It is this lack of understanding and respect that has led to the desecration and theft of our ancestor’s human being remains, their sacred belongings and our sacred places. Our ancestors lived in a holy way, which is powerfully connected to the natural world.” The Council goes on to say that “[t]hose seeking to steal and desecrate our ancestor’s human being remains and their belongings for profit, trade, recreation, development, so-called formal education or any other reason are violating our way of the life, the Creator’s Sacred Holy Cycle of Life and the Creator’s Natural Law.” Involvement of Indigenous spiritual leaders is also integral to international repatriation efforts.

The ongoing sales of Indigenous Ancestors, funerary objects, sacred objects, and cultural patrimony is a human rights abuse. However, auction houses, collectors, museums, and others have the opportunity to introduce ethical practices into their industry, consult with Indigenous Peoples and Native Nations, and ensure that this human rights abuse is addressed. The International Repatriation Project at the AAIA encourages them to “do the right thing” and engage in these efforts. In addition, the AAIA is willing to help facilitate such dialogue and encourages participation at its Indigenous International Repatriation Conference, Shifting the Burden, September 26-28, 2016, in Albuquerque, NM.

The International Repatriation Project stands with Native Nations and other Indigenous Peoples seeking international repatriation and is opposed to the sale of Indigenous Ancestors, funerary objects, sacred objects, and cultural patrimony in the private art market, calling it a human rights abuse. Such markets are integrally linked to the ongoing looting of Indigenous burial and sacred places. This profound disrespect for Indigenous Peoples must end.

More information about the International Repatriation Project can be found at For additional information on international repatriation, please follow us on twitter: @Indrepatriation and facebook.