Category Archives: federal government

Zinke Embraces Depatriation

After several months of study, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is said to have decided on substantially cutting down the area of lands that presidents since Theodore Roosevelt have protected through the Antiquities Act.

Two of the four monuments Zinke wishes to reduce are those established by recent Democratic presidents. Highest on the list: Bears Ears National Monument, set aside for protection by President Obama. If Zinke and the President get their way, places like Bears Ears in Utah and Gold Butte in Nevada may now be re-opened to commercial mineral and resource extraction.

In a previous post, I outlined how the Act has been implemented since Roosevelt’s administration (it was a Republican-sponsored piece of legislation) by presidents who have responded to the public’s desire to see places with culturally sensitive landmarks and archaeological features preserved for future generations.

“I want to ask you to do one thing in connection with it in your own interest and in the interest of the country—to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is.”

Teddy Roosevelt
Although recent monument designations have been characterized by some western politicians as “federal land grabs,” as the history of the Antiquities Act demonstrates, most are very much in keeping with the vision of its originator, T.R. Like the idea of repatriation (see “Iowa’s Place in Repatriation”), cultural preservation got its start in Iowa when Congressman John F. Lacey, a Republican representative, pushed to create the Antiquities Act. Republicans from Roosevelt to Lacey and Taft all saw that protection of western lands were a necessary part of legislating for “the greater good.” As Roosevelt said when he set aside parts of the Grand Canyon for protection: “I want to ask you to do one thing in connection with it in your own interest and in the interest of the country—to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is.”

Certainly Secretary Zinke is right when he says, “No President should use the authority under the Antiquities Act to restrict public access, prevent hunting and fishing, burden private land, or eliminate traditional land uses, unless such action is needed to protect the object.”

The law states: “the limits of [monuments] in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.” But also says that private land may be caught up in the process: “When such objects are situated upon a tract  . . . held in private ownership, the tract, or so much thereof as may be necessary for the proper care and management of the object, may be relinquished to the Government.”

Yet several of Zinke’s statements regarding his decision seem to ignore this provision and suggest a highly politicized process. Instead of simply acknowledging that many citizens have written to protest the changes to the boundaries of places like Bears Ears, Zinke interpreted their disagreement as some sort of conspiracy:

Comments received were overwhelmingly in favor of maintaining existing monuments and demonstrated a well-orchestrated national campaign organized by multiple organizations (Washington Post, 8/24/17).

Where else are everyday Americans who want to preserve sacred lands and archaeological wonders to turn? We don’t have as many lobbyists on K Street. Plus, much of our lobbying is done in the open, in letter writing campaigns and blogs like this one. We don’t have access to the golf clubhouses where deals involving the public interest are now routinely made.

“When such objects are situated upon a tract  . . . held in private ownership, the tract, or so much thereof as may be necessary for the proper care and management of the object, may be relinquished to the Government.”

Antiquities Act

This debate is about much more than balancing environmental protections with the needs of local farming and mining interests. The Antiquities Act is all about protecting those “objects of cultural patrimony” that inhere in the land itself—pictographs, earthworks, human remains, artifacts.

Petroglyphs at Gold Butte. Photo by Terri Rylander.

These objects need the special protection a monument designation provides precisely because they do not easily fall under the guidelines of NAGPRA, especially if the land in question is not federal land. Those who would claim that their rights to “improvement” are being violated by such monument designations often claim an ancestral right to the land. The problem with such claims, however, is that much of land use in the west is predicated upon ignoring earlier treaties the U.S. made with Indian tribes in the nineteenth century.

In an ideal world, those of us who wish to see sacred sites and objects of cultural patrimony be protected would simply write our representatives and eventually have legislation written to that effect. There would be compromises, to be sure, but in the end, both the rancher and worshiper would have land enough to peaceably coexist.

But we live in an era of legislative “under-reach” that almost guarantees nothing will get done in this regard. The U.S. Senate couldn’t even find a way to hold hearings for a Supreme Court nominee, something the Constitution lists as part of their job. How could they possibly act on something like this, an issue that requires careful thought, historical knowledge, and cultural sensitivity?

Although it is being marketed under the guise of local autonomy, this executive action is simply a disguised form of depatriation—the clawing back of Indian homelands into the maw of corporate interests. Repatriation law is founded on the right of peoples to declare sovereignty over those objects of cultural patrimony that have been unjustly alienated from them. More fundamentally, it posits a homeland to which such items may be returned.

Under Mr. Zinke’s plan, American Indians will have fewer places to worship and less land to spare for the bones of their ancestors.







Cedar Mesa Moon House, Bears Ears National Monument.

American Indian history is littered with euphemisms masking atrocities committed by the federal and state governments under their cover. Beginning with “removal,” that benign-sounding word for forced marches and starvation, the settler communities that invaded Indian Country have deployed a wide array of terms to describe what are now generally acknowledged to have been policies aimed at destroying tribal communities and their traditions—the Dawes Act, Relocation, Termination.

The latest word to enter the vocabulary of those who would carve out more sacred grounds and treaty land for their personal use is perhaps the most galling. That word is sovereignty.

During the 2015 armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge  in Oregon, members of a group called Citizens for Constitutional Freedom invoked sovereignty in the form of state’s rights to justify their actions. They said the federal government’s management of western lands was illegitimate because their own “ancestral rights” to cattle grazing usurped any federal claims (Read more).

Over the course of the protracted negotiations to end the Malheur occupation, the Burns Paiute Tribe, which once held land that included the refuge, called on the militants to end the standoff. From the point of such tribal communities, this bastardization of the concept of sovereignty is absurd. Yankton Dakota Sioux writer Jacqueline Keeler put it this way:

As a Native American, I find [their] late-nineteenth-century claims of “ancestral rights” presumptuous, since by law all remaining pre-emptive rights in [the states] belong not to late arrivals like [them] but to tribes that have lived in the region for thousands of years (Read more).

Unfortunately, the “ancestral rights” types have the ear of the new president. During the Obama administration, more lands were returned to the Native nations than in the terms of the three previous presidents. Now, the current Commander in Chief has signed an executive order instructing the Interior Department to review all national monument designations, paying special attention to the Bears Ears National Monument in San Juan County, Utah.

Members of Utah’s congressional delegation started lobbying the new administration soon after November’s election, asking it to reverse course on Bears Ears. Indian Country Today reported at the time that “a White House official justified this action, saying, ‘Past administrations have overused this power and designated large swaths of land well beyond the areas in need of protection.’”

The term I would use for these efforts is depatriation.

That is because repatriation and the renewal of cultural protocols presupposes a homeland where remains may be re-interred and ceremonies restored. The word’s etymology suggests a post-classical Latin reference to returning something or someone to the homeland, the country of one’s father. Yet it is given in a feminine form—patria—and thereby refers to a motherland as well. Thus, the word is, first and foremost, about land. It represents a landed definition of ownership, consanguinity, identity, association.

There is also the question of power. About 50 percent of San Juan County is Native American, yet just nine percent of business owners are Indian, according to the U.S. Census. It is also one of the poorest counties in the state. “It’s all about control,” said Mark Maryboy, a member of the grassroots Utah Diné Bikéyah, which initiated the effort to make Bears Ears a national monument.

Of course, not all tribes or tribal members agree. Darren Parry, Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation vice chairman, has said that the designation is not in the best interest of the Shoshone. Navajo Republican County Commissioner Rebecca Benally agrees, and has formed a group called Stewards of San Juan County. Ms Benally feels that the tribes are being “used” by environmentalists and that the monument’s boundaries extend too far into county lands that could he used by tribal members for grazing.

While these complaints deserve a proper hearing, it is also worth noting that the most outspoken supporters of rolling back President Obama’s designation are no less suspect of manipulating tribal politics and “using” Native people than the environmentalists Rebecca Benally opposes.

It’s all about control.

Mark Maryboy

San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams, a Republican rancher, is a case in point. As part of his support of the rollback, Adams distributed cowboy hats emblazoned with the message: “Make San Juan County Great Again.” It’s a witty take on the president’s campaign slogan, but just 200 days into this administration, it is a phrase that should give us all pause.

Bruce Adams (“Indian Country Today,” Kim Baca)

We have now experienced what “great” means for the new president, and it does not appear to have anything to do with helping rural counties like San Juan. It does, however, promise corporate interests more access to extractive resources, tax breaks, and relaxed environmental regulations. None of these would seem to offer farmers and ranchers any shot at “greatness.” More mining and drilling means less grazing land. Less oversight means more tainted ground water, more erosion. Nor are the corporate interests at all local. If they employ locals, they do so only sporadically, as suits their immediate needs. They rarely reinvest in the local infrastructure or participate in community activities. They build temporary roads to and from their mines and wells, hire itinerant workers, and cut and run when the mines are payed out and the wells run dry. Their profits go to place like Panama and the Cayman Islands, while rural people like those of San Juan County, both Anglo and Indian, are left to clean up the mess.

This is not sovereignty, it is fealty, a word that should strike fear in the hearts of anyone with a desire for freedom and local control. It is not at all euphemistic. It means exactly what it says: “a feudal tenant’s sworn loyalty to a lord.”


The Great Basin Indian Archives

In a recent blog post (Archive Journal) reviewing the American Historical Association’s recent conference in Denver, Molly Hardy, Digital Humanities Coordinator at the American Antiquarian Society, observed in passing the new digital collection of Great Basin indigenous cultural material sponsored by Great Basin College.

Funded through a partnership among rural Nevada’s Great Basin College, the University of Utah, and Barrick North America, the Great Basin Indian Archives (GBIA) provides “a tool to engage learners of all ages and backgrounds by offering a 24/7 information resource about Great Basin’s native peoples and their rich culture. The GBIA hopes to provide a mechanism and forum for peoples of Great Basin heritage to tell/curate their story in perpetuity.”

The GBIA draws its strength  from community buy-in, the central curatorial role of Great Basin individuals, and its innovative use of the Great Basin College’s new Virtual Humanities Center (VHC), where “select assets from the Great Basin Indian Archives are now available  . . .  in an archival and fully searchable repository.”

The Great Basin Indian Archives will endeavor to provide students and researchers with easy access to primary and digital information that chronicle the history and heritage of the Great Basin Indian peoples.

The Great Basin Indian Archives was initially conceived in 2001, and the like the efforts of the Shoshone an Arapaho at Wind River Reservation (see “What is Theirs”), its goal is to reinvigorate the younger generation of Great Basin peoples by giving them hands-on access to Native language recordings and material culture objects that have played a critical role in sustaining the some 50-plus communities who still live and work as federally recognized tribes in the Great Basin.

As with their Eastern Shoshone relatives at Wind River, language is a key component to this project of cultural revitalization. The Great Basin Indian Archive sponsors The Shoshone Community Language Initiative (SCLI),  a four-and-a-half week summer program for Shoshone high school students.

But there is one component to this Native-sponsored archival project that impacts all Americans—”The intent for the GBIA program is to exist on the GBC website and to provide a “virtual linking archives” for easy accessibility to the General Public as well.”

This sharing of information is critical, the participants in the GBIA believe, so that educators—both in Nevada and in the country as a whole—have “a credible insertion point in the curriculum with a substantial reference/resource base. The archives wants to encourage term papers and projects related to the curriculum that could also become deposited in the GBIA.”

Thus this indigenous online archive was not founded on the needs of Native communities alone, but also on the idea that knowledge of Native history and all that entails is essential for all students’ preparation. American Indian history, like that of the original 13 British American colonies, or of Britain or Rome, is a core element in the humanities, which is in turn central to critical thinking. It is worth quoting at length from the GBIA’s website:

Faculty at GBC had believed for some time that humanities were not being emphasized enough in our curriculum. We realized that our students are not proficient in many of the important skills that the humanities encourage, such as the ability to think critically about what they are reading or to connect the ideas in that reading to a larger context. As teachers we work with students struggling to use facts to support their opinions — sometimes even to differentiate between fact and opinion—and to present their ideas clearly and cogently. Our students, and students in general, often cannot recognize the validity of other perspectives or value the diversity of viewpoints and ideas that surround them. 

None of this would have been possible, however, without a lot of work. Great Basin serves a rural population and a huge geographic area:

For GBC the solution to this dilemma would have to take into consideration the realities of our situation: a service area that has grown to 87,000 square miles of Nevada, a mission to serve the mostly rural residents of that vast expanse, a strong distance education infrastructure relying on interactive video and online instruction to reach our students. 

But where could a remote rural college go for help in the exploratory work needed to brainstorm and implement a virtual learning center that could bridge the gaps its students were experiencing in finding the larger context for their ideas, so that they could “differentiate between fact and opinion—and to present their ideas clearly and cogently?”

The answer is simple, they applied to the National Endowment for the Humanities:

In 2011, a group of faculty began to discuss applying for a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Jeannie Rosenthal Bailey gathered those ideas into a challenge grant which was submitted to NEH in 2013 . . . The GBC Foundation had agreed to support the grant and to go beyond the 2-to-1 match to a 3-to-1 match, meaning that the $500,000 from NEH would realize a total contribution of $2,000,000 to GBC for the project over five years.

a challenge grant was submitted to NEH in 2013. We were expecting a polite refusal, but also valuable suggestions for a later resubmission. To our surprise, in July 2013 we received the news that GBC had received the grant!

A mining company dedicated “to contribute to the welfare of the communities and countries in which we operate” (Barrick North America), a state university in Utah, a rural college in Nevada—all brought together in common cause by a federal program now under attack for its supposed elitist preoccupations, its failure to demonstrate its worth beyond urban areas and left-leaning voters.

The peoples of the Great Basin might just disagree.

(Image: The Great Basin Indian Archives)