COMMENTARY:

Last Thursday marked the first anniversary of the designation of Gold Butte National Monument. We acknowledge and honor the important protection given to our ancestral lands. Protecting the land means protecting the roots of our cultural heritage. But even as we celebrate a milestone for the monument, a threat looms, and we are gravely concerned.

Since time immemorial, our people have lived and traveled across this land that is now Gold Butte National Monument. They carved their stories on the rocks, cooked their food in the now ancient roasting pits and left artifacts that show how our people thrived in this beautiful desert environment. These are the objects of antiquity that tell the story of the Nuwu people, of how we thrived on the land since time immemorial, and of how our homelands were stolen by white colonizers. We cannot forget this history.

The Moapa River Indian Reservation was established in Southern Nevada as 2.1 million acres in 1873 and includes the entire area today known as Gold Butte. Our reservation was drastically reduced to 1,000 acres in 1875. In 1980, an additional 70,000 acres were returned, but our ancestral land is still far from our reservation boundaries.

Today, the entire area of Gold Butte National Monument is a traditional lifeway for the Nuwu people; it is an integral part of our living culture. We celebrate the deep spiritual connection we have to the land through song and dance. We honor these gifts through the many songs we sing that talk about the natural landscape that bestows food, medicine, wildlife and water. We connect to the loves, joys and struggles of our many ancestors who were here before us.

One of our most sacred animals is the mountain sheep, who sacrificed their lives so we could survive many years ago. In return, we honor them through song and dance. Just as our people were in danger years ago of losing our lands, so too is the mountain sheep, who struggle to survive with the expansions of land taken away for modern development. It is our duty to protect the mountain sheep, for if they all die, then we die too. That is one of the many reasons why this land is so important to us as we continue to survive in this modern world.

Sadly, more recently, the stories of our people have been threatened and damaged in Gold Butte due to off-road vehicle use, illegal grazing activities and looting. Our tribe has asked for enhanced protection for many years through Tribal Council resolutions and letters to the president. Finally, last year, Gold Butte received a much-needed and deserved national monument designation.

Now, though, our homeland is threatened once again. Earlier this month, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke released his final national monument report. In it, he recommended boundary adjustments for Gold Butte National Monument. The report was the culmination of a sham review process. The department did not seek our input during the review process. During his trip to Nevada, Mr. Zinke canceled a meeting with our tribal council.

Instead, we held a brief phone meeting where the focus was discussing other priorities besides the protection of Gold Butte. We should have accompanied Mr. Zinke on his tour of Gold Butte, but we were not invited.

Overall, the Department of the Interior did not fulfill its trust responsibility to the Moapa Band of Paiutes. As protections for Gold Butte remain in limbo, our tribe is once again left with broken promises and uncertainty.

The release of the monuments report followed an illegal action by President Donald Trump that eliminated protection for 84 percent of Bears Ears and 46 percent of Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah. Both monuments encompass lands that are the traditional territory for the Nuwu people. These places are sacred to our tribes. Any recommendations that remove protections from national monuments are an affront to the sovereign nations whose traditions are linked to the land.

We stand with the tribes across the nation to support protections for our sacred places. As indigenous people who have been a part of this land since time immemorial, we strongly oppose any actions to remove protection from our ancestral lands. The future of our cultural heritage is at stake.

Greg Anderson is the chairman of the Tribal Council for the Moapa Band of Paiutes.

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