Alexander Stuart served as the U.S. Secretary of Interior from 1850 to 1853. He once declared that the United States’ mission was to “civilize or exterminate” Native people.
Almost 170 years later, Deb Haaland is this country's first Native American to serve as Secretary of Interior. Last week she traveled home to New Mexico for her first trip outside D.C. in that new role. She held a listening session with a delegation of nine pueblo governors of the All Pueblo Council of Governors. Perhaps you will understand why these words from Wilfred Herrera Jr., former governor of Laguna, brought tears to her eyes.
Today you return home, a symbol of our fulfillment of our faith, the answer to the prayers of our grandmothers and grandfathers over many generations. That prophetic time has come in our time and we are grateful.
From there, Haaland traveled to Utah. This, ladies and gentlemen, is your Interior Secretary.
Despite her history of being a 35th generation New Mexican, Haaland is focused on the future.
This has been a meaningful trip, and I deeply appreciate the many people who took the time to share their wisdom, perspectives, and prayers with me. It's a powerful reminder that how we manage public lands and national monuments will provide a path for future generations. pic.twitter.com/1FMbTmpS3S— Secretary Deb Haaland (@SecDebHaaland) April 9, 2021
Haaland's trip to Utah was designed to inform her recommendations to the president based on an executive order he signed for a 60-day process to review the reduction of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments. To recap, President Obama signed a proclamation in 2016 to protect those lands as a national monument. Here's why that was so important to Native Americans.
The 1.35-acre sacred site in Southwest Utah encompasses archaeological records such as petroglyphs, ancient cliff dwellings, ceremonial sites and artifacts dating back thousands of years, making it historically and culturally significant to the Navajo and Hopi Nations that still use the land.
The sacred area offers healing powers to the people that have inhabited it since time immemorial. Bits of land within the area where the sun doesn’t touch are known as places to heal those who are sick, Maryboy—whose great grandfather lived on Bears Ears—said. Listening, star gazing, and placing offerings in certain locations are also made to heal the community and its residents There are also specific plants and herbs collected from the area that contain healing properties.
Of course, Trump did everything he could to reverse that designation by reducing the size of Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent.
Reporting later revealed his administration placed access to oil and gas reserves at the center of the decision. And a uranium-mining company led by the soon-to-be-appointed Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Andrew Wheeler, lobbied the Trump administration to reduce the monument so it could mine uranium within the original boundary.
Since the shrinking of the monument, it has been overrun by motorized vehicles and tourists, threatening significant cultural artifacts.
While in Utah, Haaland met with politicians, tribal leaders, and staff who manage public lands. She also visited the monuments herself.
Today I was able to visit the ancient petroglyphs at Sand Island Petroglyphs with @BLMNational staff in Utah.— Secretary Deb Haaland (@SecDebHaaland) April 7, 2021
Estimated to be between 300 and 3,000 years old, these images are located in an area that was part of the original Bears Ears Monument designation. pic.twitter.com/0QsI5KlmvG
I have no doubt that Haaland's recommendations to Biden will be grounded in history with an eye towards providing a path for future generations that honors the power of the earth. That will be a gift to us all...and an answer to the prayers of her grandmothers and grandfathers.