October 23, 2021

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Biden declares Indigenous People’s Day, restores critical protections to national monuments

That made the restoration of the national monuments that much more impactful. As Meteor Blades wrote last month, tribal leaders in the five-tribe Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition had written to Biden, urging him to act on Secretary Haaland’s recommendation to restore the monuments. “Each day that passes without national monument protection for numerous sacred sites and irreplaceable cultural resources risks desecration, looting, vandalism, and misinformed visitation to an area that contains the exact kind of antiquities that inspired the creation of the Antiquities Act,” the tribal representatives wrote. “These artifacts considered by us to be messages our ancestors meant for us to see and incorporate as lessons into our present, are literally being erased.”

Biden acknowledged that history in his proclamation restoring the Bears Ears monument, and recognized “the landscape’s unique density of significant cultural, historical, and archaeological artifacts spanning thousands of years,” as well as “the cultural significance and importance of the area, exemplified by the petroglyphs, pictographs, and recent rock writings left by the indigenous people that have inhabited the area since time immemorial.”

“We are here today on the ancestral homelands of the Anacostia and Piscataway People, bending the arc of the moral universe toward justice,” Secretary Haaland said in her remarks, becoming justifiably emotional. “Thank you, Mr. President, for the profound action you are taking today to permanently protect the homeland of our ancestors. Our songs, our languages, and our cultures are strong, and many people from many Indian tribes have sung and spoken in unison to protect this sacred place.”


Speaking specifically about Bears Ears, she continued to describe a “sacred place,” and “a living landscape.” It “is a place where you can stand in the doorway of a home where a family who lived thousands of years ago left behind a legacy of love and conservation for a place that sustained them for countless generations,” Haaland said. “Today’s announcement, it’s not just about national monuments. It’s about this administration centering the voices of indigenous people and affirming the shared stewardship of this landscape with tribal nations,” Haaland said. “Together, we will tell a more complete story of America.”

Hopi Chairman Timothy L. Nuvangyaoma told Indian Country Today he is “happy” and “grateful for the advocacy of all those related to protecting Bears Ears and for the Hopi tribe,” and that it’s deeply meaningful to the Hopi. “For Hopi, this is a significant step forward and the Biden administration did make some commitments to listen to Native America and Biden’s actions does prove that it is happening. We do need to protect these sacred sites that not only the Hopi tribe but other tribes find significant within their history.”

As for the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument in the Atlantic Ocean, Biden said, “There’s nothing like it in the world, because [of] its unique biodiversity. […] Waters teeming with life with underwater canyons as deep as parts of the Grand Canyon. Underwater mountains as tall as the Appalachians. Marine scientists believe that this is a key to understanding life under the sea.” Trump had allowed commercial fishing in the monument, which was the first ocean monument in the U.S., declared by President Barack Obama.

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