We support elevating Native American voices, including those at Standing Rock

The Conservation Lands Foundation was founded to protect, restore and expand the National Conservation Lands. To achieve that mission, we focus our efforts on lands that are part of, or should someday be part of, this 35 million-acre system—managed by the Bureau of Land Management on behalf of the American public who owns it.

However, national issues affecting all public lands—and the processes by which we decide their fate—are also core to that mission.

Right now, the Standing Rock Sioux of North Dakota are leading a protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline, construction of which has already threatened and destroyed sacred sites and could threaten the reservation’s only water supply. A quick history is useful here: The pipeline as proposed crosses land once recognized as belonging to the Great Sioux Nation; it was taken from them by a unilateral act of Congress in 1877 that broke the earlier 1868 treaty agreement. The Standing Rock Sioux website cites the Supreme Court’s own conclusion in 1980 that “A more ripe and rank case of dishonorable dealings will never, in all probability, be found in our history.”  United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians, 448 U.S. 371, 388 (1980).

In addition, as reported by The Atlantic in September, the tribe’s “right to consult,” recognized by federal law since 1992, was likely not followed in this case, and the Army Corps may also have violated the Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Meanwhile, the perpetrators of an armed takeover of a national wildlife refuge in Oregon—led by the Bundy family—were recently acquitted of all charges. As this blog by the New Mexico Wildlife Federation notes, their claims were deeply misguided:

The armed occupiers at Malheur claimed to be giving the land back to the people – while keeping the public out with guns… The occupiers either didn’t know or willfully ignored the fact that they were on public lands – owned by all Americans. Even worse, if the land was going to be “given back” to anyone it would be the Burns Paiute Tribe who have sacred sites in the refuge (which the occupiers dug up with a backhoe) and had worked out peaceful access with Malheur staff.

Native Americans are speaking up for public lands they have ties to in other places as well. In southeastern Utah, five sovereign tribal governments—with support from dozens of others as well as the National Congress of American Indians—came together last year to advance a proposal for a Bears Ears National Monument that includes co-management by tribes. The region contains thousands of sacred cultural and important archaeological sites, and is viewed by many Native Americans as a place that offers direct connection to their ancestors and is key to healing. The proposal was developed after tribal representatives were repeatedly disrespected during the Public Lands Initiative process led by Utah Representatives Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz.

In Nevada, the Moapa Band of Paiutes have been active in a campaign seeking national monument status for the Gold Butte region, for many of the same reasons. Gold Butte is the same region where the Bundy family gained notoriety for refusing to pay grazing fees and ultimately leading an armed uprising and threatening government officials. Bundy family members are still facing charges in Nevada stemming from that incident, but as of yet have not faced any consequences. Meanwhile, Gold Butte remains a national treasure worthy of protection, containing thousands of petroglyphs and other cultural sites, Joshua Tree forests, mind-bending rock formations and recently-discovered fossilized footprints that predate dinosaurs–and have scientists buzzing.

In Arizona, Archaeology Southwest completed an ethnographic study this summer that linked 13 tribes to a culturally and archaeologically rich region known as the Great Bend of the Gila. Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva introduced legislation highlighting the tribes’ connections and calling for the protection of the Great Bend. In August, tribal representatives participated in a press conference with Rep. Grijalva where they detailed key reasons why protecting the area is important to them.

Meanwhile, as the New Mexico Wildlife Federation notes, “peaceful protesters standing up to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline so they can protect their land and water were forcibly removed from their land by law enforcement using Mace and guns firing bean bags and rubber bullets.”

Because of this, we at the Conservation Lands Foundation want to highlight our commitment to the following:

  • Although we may disagree on the details, a broad majority of Americans support balanced protection of our public lands, to preserve the economic, recreation, hunting, fishing and other opportunities they provide for us and future generations. It’s essential that decisions about our public lands include a broad array of voices, and that stakeholders maintain the civility upon which all democratic processes depend.
  • Native American treaty rights and tribal sovereignty–along with the government-to-government relationships created by sovereignty–must be honored and respected.
  • Native American voices must be elevated to the highest levels in decision-making around the use and management of our public lands.
  • We must recognize and act in ways that counter the history of discrimination and injustice against Native Americans—a history that underlies the ongoing marginalization of their voices.
  • The Conservation Lands Foundation is strongly opposed to armed uprisings like those at Malheur and Gold Butte, and we strongly support the rights of peaceful protesters—including those at Standing Rock.


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