Public LandSocial Justice

As Trump Administration Eyes Changes to Gold Butte, Community Leaders Demand Monument Be Kept Whole

Just one day after President Donald Trump traveled to Utah to sign two proclamations to drastically reduce Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke confirmed on a press call that he’s recommending some sort of reduction to Nevada’s Gold Butte National Monument. Moments after the news broke, local public lands advocates gathered in Las Vegas to make clear that Nevadans won’t accept any cuts to the state’s monuments.

We thought we were moving in the right direction.”
– Darren Daboda, Moapa Band of Paiutes

Earlier today, Zinke released a final report on his review of 27 National Monuments that were designated between 1996 and 2016. In the report Zinke made no mention of Basin and Range National Monument, but he did recommend modifications to Gold Butte National Monument. Although the report did not provide specifics, Zinke did express support for easing cattle grazing restrictions and reducing its acreage as recommended by the Virgin Valley Water District (even though the designation already includes language to guarantee water rights for the Mesquite region).

Photo by Andrew Davey

As this news was breaking, Moapa Band of Paiutes Tribal Council Chair Darren Daboda recounted how Zinke promised to keep tribal communities in the loop after he canceled his planned meeting with tribal leaders in July. “We thought we were moving in the right direction after we had a conference call with him,” Daboda said.

Yet since then, Zinke has not notified Native American communities about his plan to recommend any kind of reduction. “At the time, he did not say anything about Gold Butte being downsized.” As Daboda sees it, “To us, as a tribal council, it seems like we’re not moving in the right direction. [Zinke] already had his mind set after he met with other organizations.”

“It shows tremendous disregard to our communities for our pleas to be ignored.”
– Fawn Douglas, Las Vegas Paiute artist and activist

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Artist and activist Fawn Douglas agreed with Daboda, and expressed her disgust for the Trump Administration’s ignoring of Native American demands to keep these and other areas fully protected. “President Trump and Secretary Zinke have threatened to undo protections to our ancestral lands,” Douglas said. “It shows tremendous disregard to our communities for our pleas to be ignored.”

Friends of Gold Butte Executive Director Jaina Moan then voiced her anger over Nevadans being left in the dark as Zinke proposed to roll back protections for Gold Butte. “We still don’t know what [the report] says. […] It’s disheartening. It’s saddening.”

Photo by Andrew Davey

Moan also condemned Trump’s decision yesterday to severely reduce Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah, a decision seemingly rooted in the administration’s ideological hostility to protection of public lands. For Moan, “Quite simply, he is erasing history, or at least he’s trying to.” She continued, “Our national monuments are our collective heritage. They tell our story.”

“Gold Butte National Monument is wanted by Nevadans. […] Reductions to this monument are unacceptable.”
– Jaina Moan, Friends of Gold Butte

Already, five Native American tribes have filed suit against the White House to overturn Trump’s decisions on the Utah monuments. Here in Nevada, tribal leaders and environmentalists signaled they will follow suit if Trump makes a similar move on Gold Butte. For Darren Daboda, this fight is very personal. “As First Nations, this was all originally Indian land. This was our ancestral land.” Daboda added, “These are sacred sites to us.”

Moan echoed Daboda’s sentiment and called on the White House to respect the will of Nevadans by keeping the state’s monuments whole. “Gold Butte National Monument is wanted by Nevadans. The national monument is a gift to all Americans. Reductions to this monument are unacceptable.”

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