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Voices of the Land

Voices of the Land
Photography by Checko Salgado

While a Trump administration review of national monuments stokes conflicting passions over public lands, Nevada’s native tribes contemplate the bigger picture. Why aren’t we listening?

We pulled up to the secret spot at around 10 a.m. on a warm July morning — Checko Salgado, codirector of the nonprofit Friends of Basin and Range; Patrick Naranjo, a specialist in American Indian cultural artifacts who works in UNLV’s multicultural center; Scott Lien, my Desert Companion colleague (and, as owner of a Jeep Wrangler, our driver for the day); and me. We walked over the gravel lip on the side of the road and through the sagebrush and Mormon tea to get closer to a canyon wall made of huge stone spires lined up like organ pipes. Salgado pointed up to a flat rock face, and we all squinted and shaded our eyes.

A drawing came into focus: slanted checkerboard lines in chalky-looking red pigment. We walked a few yards down the wall, and Salgado pointed out another drawing. Then another, and another.

“Don’t put in your story where these are, please,” he said. The pictographs haven’t been documented yet, and he doesn’t want vandals, like those that defaced the White River Narrows petroglyphs not far away, to find them.

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Naranjo, a wiry long-distance runner of 38, scrambled up into the rocks to get a closer look at one image. Standing on a ledge, he turned and shouted down to us, gesticulating enthusiastically, “This is serious shit, man!”

A member of the Santa Clara Pueblo tribe in New Mexico, Naranjo was seeing Basin and Range National Monument for the first time, and he was completely mesmerized by the place. Since we’d left the highway — traversing a couple miles of typical Mojave scrubland before finding ourselves in a tight canyon lined by anthropomorphic boulders — he’d been peering through the window, pointing out the art and life forms that sprang up unexpectedly, and holding forth on the meaning of it all.

“They’re showing themselves to us,” Naranjo said, after he picked his way down from the organ-pipe rock. He was referring not just to the pictographs, but also the red-tail hawk that had flown low over our heads as we entered the monument, the owl we’d spotted in the Valley of Faces, the countless lizards, rabbits, and petroglyphs all around.

Seeing and being seen are key elements in Naranjo’s philosophy of Native American rights, and they apply as much to Southern Nevada’s indigenous people as to any other. As William Logan Hebner writes in his book Southern Paiute: A Portrait, a predominant issue “persists throughout their homeland: Many of their neighbors have no idea that the Southern Paiute remain there at all. They have become virtually invisible.”

This invisibility has been, well, apparent in the recent public debate over national monuments — the reason I spent eight hours touring Basin and Range that July day. Three months after taking office, President Donald Trump ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review all national monuments of more than 100,000 acres created since 1996. That includes both the 700,000-acre Basin and Range, established north of Las Vegas in Lincoln and Nye Counties in July 2015, and the 300,000-acre Gold Butte, designated in northeast Clark County last December. Zinke was supposed to make his recommendations to Trump by late August; as of press time, he hadn’t made his official report on the Nevada monuments. (See the sidebar on p. 73 about Trump’s potential power to repeal or scale back previous presidents’ proclamations.)

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Salgado and other conservationists believe that President Barack Obama used the Antiquities Act to proclaim Basin and Range and Gold Butte national monuments as a way of ensuring that their landscapes, wildlife, and cultural sites will be preserved for future generations. But not everyone shares this view. Many Lincoln and Nye County residents, along with those of rural Clark County near Gold Butte, oppose the monuments, arguing that they’re just another form of federal government interference in their favored pursuits, from mining and ranching, to target-practice and ATV-riding.

This conflict was evident well before Trump issued his executive order. The Sagebrush Rebellion started in Nevada in the late 1970s, after the Bureau of Land Management proposed millions of acres for wilderness area protection, aggravating disgruntlement that had been festering since the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934. Its most recent episode took place in 2014, when Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy instigated an armed standoff with the BLM to prevent the agency from rounding up his cattle that had been illegally grazing on federal land (more on that in the sidebar on p. 74).

The trial of several men charged with crimes related to the Bundy ranch standoff was just getting underway in a Las Vegas federal court when the BLM held a town hall meeting about Gold Butte National Monument in Mesquite on February 9. The gathering was to have been informational, with government officials answering the public’s questions about the designation and taking suggestions on how to make it work for the community. Instead, it turned into a near-brawl, with opponents of the monument accusing the BLM of secretly planning to close off the 360 miles of roads set aside in the proclamation for recreational use, and Bundy supporters decrying the feds’ jurisdiction over the land.

Sitting at the back of the room was Greg Anderson, vice-chairman of the Moapa Band of Paiutes tribal council whose grandfather was born in Gold Butte. Early in the meeting, Anderson had stood up and suggested that, if the white people couldn’t agree on what to do with the land, maybe they should just give it back to the Indians. But as the meeting descended into chaos, his voice was drowned out. The BLM canceled subsequently scheduled town halls and declined to give me any interviews or information about the national monuments for this story.

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Moapa Band of Paiutes Tribal Chairman Darren Daboda

Moapa Band of Paiutes Tribal Chairman Darren Daboda says that what happened at the Mesquite town hall is typical: White voices take up most of the oxygen in the room, while the Indian point of view is treated as an aside, bonus, or footnote. He acknowledges that preservation nonprofit Friends of Gold Butte has always included Southern Paiutes in its efforts, but he adds that the Indians’ greater concerns often take a back seat to those of ranchers and outdoors enthusiasts in broader forums, such as the meetings that Zinke was supposed to hold in Las Vegas as part of his review. The Interior Secretary had originally planned to spend a few days in Las Vegas in late July, but he cut the visit to one day and canceled most meetings, including one at the Moapa Band’s reservation, so he could return to Washington, D.C., for a cabinet meeting with then-newly appointed White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. To make up for it, Zinke scheduled a later phone conference with tribal leaders.

“We felt like our input was an afterthought,” Daboda says of the call.

All the Southern Paiutes interviewed for this story favor upholding the Basin and Range and Gold Butte national monument designations, because that would mean maintaining government-sanctioned protection of their ancestral lands. At the same time, they have issues with the Antiquities Act — and the larger process of federal land management — that they feel are being ignored. In this sense, Trump’s executive order doesn’t just reopen the debate between miners, oilmen, and ranchers, on one hand, and environmentalists, hikers, and wildlife advocates on the other. It also offers an opportunity to really hear from the people who’ve been here the longest and know the land the best — people like Greg Anderson. He’s showing up, but too many of the other people there fail to see the significance of his presence.

America owes its natives an equal voice in the conversation about public lands, in part because it’s the law. President Bill Clinton signed an executive order in 2000 requiring federal agencies to consult with Indian tribes on matters that stand to affect them; Daboda hinted at this responsibility in his public remarks following Zinke’s meeting cancellation.

Lookback: Summer 2007: The feature package of the inaugural issue of Desert Companion celebrated recreation on public lands, including kayaking at Lake Mead, camping in Dixie National Forest and biking Bootleg Canyon. But appreciating the outdoors in about more than just having fun. Over the years, our stories have considered public lands through the lens of history, politics and people. Read those and other highlight stories from our 10 years.

And there is practical value beyond the legal obligation. The Paiute, Shoshone, and Washoe were in Nevada when white settlers arrived, and some 40,000 natives are here today, providing a direct, living connection to our state’s oldest historical record. Why not tap into that collective knowledge?

But perhaps most important, there’s a moral obligation. During a town hall meeting held at the Las Vegas Paiute community center two weeks before Zinke’s visit, Naranjo brought up the secretary’s proposal to scale back Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, against local Indians’ wishes. (As a concession, Zinke proposed that the tribes “co-manage” the smaller monument with the federal government.)

“This reaffirms an historic application of who’s included in the American dream and who’s not,” Naranjo said. “That application just isn’t working. It has never worked. … I think it’s critical that we revisit the first story of diversity in North America, because it just doesn’t fit with reality.”


‘I feel more complete’

Las Vegas Paiute artist and activist Fawn Douglas was in the lineup of speakers at a pro-monuments press conference at the Las Vegas Springs Preserve in late July. She presented her remarks, about the importance of both Basin and Range and Gold Butte to her people, with apparently equal ease to Nevada Congressional representatives Dina Titus and Ruben Kihuen, and arguably greater impact. Tall and dark, with piercing eyes and tribal tattoos, Douglas cuts a striking figure in the conservation community, despite having become a familiar face there. I’m the first of several reporters in line to interview her one-on-one following the conference.

“I feel more connected to it every time I go there,” she says, answering my question about why she supports the monuments. “The more I go out there, the more I question, and then I ask our elders, or I ask my family, and they talk about the history of it … We have some tribal members who were born in Gold Butte. So, to go there is really to get a sense of yourself, a sense of our history. I just feel more complete there.”

I think I understand what she means, but not just because of that quick interview. I’m also remembering Douglas in a less polished moment. It was April of 2016, and I’d gone to the fourth Paiute Culture Walk, an annual gathering of the Southern Paiute tribes to honor their shared heritage. It took place in Gold Butte that year. Douglas was the only Las Vegas Paiute Tribe member planning to do the full 12-mile walk, so she carried her tribe’s flag. It was a heavy banner on a long pole, she was not in the habit of making long-distance treks early in the morning, and I felt for her when, hitching a ride with a trail monitor back to my car, we passed her, trudging alone uphill on obviously tender feet.

Yet in a phone interview a few days later, she described the event as magical, transformative: “There were times when I would just put the flagpole across my shoulders and smile, because it was such a good day,” she said. She talked about the power of so many tribes (nine were represented) uniting behind a common purpose; about carrying the flag in honor of her mother, whose bad leg prevented her from walking, and being helped by her daughter, who took the flag for the last two miles; and about the feast that followed, with traditional singing and dancing.

I kicked myself for leaving early and missing the point. All that I’d experienced was a long walk in nice weather with pretty scenery. But even if I had stayed for the whole thing, it wouldn’t have meant to me what it did to Douglas. I don’t have the same relationship with the land as she does.

Neither does Lincoln County Commissioner Varlin Higbee, a fifth-generation Nevada rancher, who, along with the rest of the commission, opposes Basin and Range National Monument.

“I hate to see (the BLM and monument proponents) lock up the natural resources like they’re doing,” Higbee told me over the phone in August, referring to a common belief that there are minerals, oil, and gas to be extracted from the area, in addition to springs and grass for herds like his. “It’s possible to use these resources in a responsible manner. If you don’t take care of it, it won’t be there for you. I’m a religious man, so this may sound funny to you, but I believe the Earth loves the gentle caress of a man’s hand. You can’t just abuse it.”

Higbee’s argument that he must operate his cattle business sustainably or lose his livelihood is persuasive. But underpinning it is a belief system that is fundamentally different than that of Fawn Douglas. Whereas white settlers came to tame the land and profit from its bounty, Paiutes see themselves as one type of Earth dweller among others. Their ability to do things like forage and hunt implies the responsibility to give back, to maintain balance with the animals, plants, and rocks.

“This land — it didn’t belong to us,” said Linda Shoshone, a Washoe Tribe elder, in a recent episode of the Vegas PBS show Outdoor Nevada. “It was here for us to take care of, and it, in turn, takes care of us.”

“Mankind is not taking care of Mother Earth. We’re poking all these holes in her, and she’s starting to burp,” Anderson said to me during one call, referring to earthquakes near fracking sites.

But Anderson and Higbee have similar feelings about one thing: The federal government’s inability (or refusal) to incorporate the knowledge that those who live off the land have gained from that experience. Higbee grazes cattle on 450,000 federally owned acres — now inside the monument — that are attached to his 40 acres of private property. He’d like to move his herds to the best grazing sites according to current conditions, as his predecessors did, but government regulations related to wildlife habitat conservation won’t allow it. He fears that the monument designation has irrecoverably diminished the value of his operation.

For his part, Anderson talks about the environmental science contained in his culture’s oral tradition, giving the example of the bighorn sheep, an animal that was historically very important to the Paiutes. Elders passed down lessons about how to hunt sheep without destroying the ecosystem. Today, the Fish and Wildlife Service works to manage bighorn sheep herds through study, refuges, and hunting permits, but the sheep populations remain fragile. Why, Anderson wondered, doesn’t the agency get the Paiutes involved?

The critical difference between Higbee’s complaint and Anderson’s is that the Basin and Range National Monument proclamation essentially allows ranching to continue in its current form, whereas the Paiutes gain no bighorn sheep hunting or management rights. (The proclamation notes that the state has jurisdiction over wildlife management.)

Questions of stewardship aside, Higbee is totally convinced that the establishment of Basin and Range National Monument was political, a last-ditch effort by former U.S. Senator Harry Reid to thwart development of the nuclear waste storage facility at Yucca Mountain, which Lincoln and Nye Counties support as a source of economic development. On the most recent Yucca Mountain maps available, a rail line for shipping waste is shown passing through the northern section of what’s now the national monument, which precludes that railroad’s construction. Coincidentally, artist Michael Heizer’s massive land sculpture, “City,” is also located in the northern portion of the monument, but Higbee sees the art work as nothing more than a convenient excuse to extend the monument so that it would block the rail line.

“Why was this monument created? To protect Michael Heizer’s private property?” he asks. “The public will never have access to ‘City.’ Never. Even the foundation that’s going to buy it has said it will never be open to the public. Strictly by invitation only, or by permit. So, they created this monument (as an obstacle to Yucca Mountain), and they threw in one or two Indian art sites that this whole state is covered with.”

Paiute leaders don’t deny that the cultural sites they hold dear are scattered around Southern Nevada. To them, it’s all the more reason to protect the land where they’re located. Daboda points out that the U.S. government gave the Paiutes 2.1 million acres when it first recognized the tribe in 1873, acknowledging the vastness of their territory. But that area was reduced to just 1,000 acres two years later, and none of the original millions were restored until the 1980s, when the total rose to nearly 72,000 acres, where it remains today. The Paiutes are hoping to regain another 26,000 acres through a land conveyance bill that’s stalled in Congress.

“Gold Butte was originally part of our reservation,” Daboda says. “Basin and Range was our ancestral land. So, we have real ties to both national monument designations.”

Those ties are memorialized in the Salt Songs, traditional, day-long tales that are sung upon the death of a Paiute tribe member. As the songs accompany the spirit through tribal lands on its way to the afterlife, they outline a territory that confirms the U.S. government’s original allocation of Paiute land. Anderson, who sings for his tribe, says the epics roam from Lincoln County down to Northern Arizona, Eastern California to Western Utah, mentioning familiar mountain ranges, valleys, and other landmarks along the way.

And while the Paiutes are linked mainly to the southern portion of Basin and Range, the northern part is just as important to the Shoshone.

“For the Indians to say it was their native land — maybe it was,” Higbee says. “But you know what? Maybe somebody’s going to come along some day and take it from us and do something else with it.”

“Like the government?” I ask.

“Yeah,” he laughs.

He also repeats a story I’ve heard from other rural ranchers about their ancestors arriving in Nevada to find the Paiutes in a sorry state, eating lizards and bugs, and being captured and sold into slavery by other tribes. Hebner quotes Mormon missionary Jacob Hamblin, who wrote about the Southern Paiute in 1855, “They are in a very low, degraded condition indeed; loathsome and filthy beyond description.”

Other writers offer different accounts, noting that the harsh conditions of the Mojave Desert honed the Paiutes’ remarkable resourcefulness, their numbers were decimated by diseases that white settlers had introduced, and their way of life was destroyed when they were isolated on reservations. Nomadic hunter-gatherers, they went where the sheep, pine nuts, water, and other means of subsistence could be found at any given time. As Anderson put it, their eating lizards may have demonstrated not that they were starving but, rather, that they were survivors.

“(Non-natives) don’t know who we are,” Anderson told PBS’s Burke. “Their history doesn’t tell the true stories.”

Even if the story of the miserable Paiute were true, it’d be worth asking what the point is in repeating it. Is the implication that the natives were somehow better off after white settlers arrived?

It’s also worth noting that the natives are adapting to new economies and technologies more successfully than some of their white rural counterparts. This year the Moapa Band opened the Southern Paiute Solar Project, a 250-megawatt renewable power plant that exports enough electricity to the L.A. Department of Water and Power to supply 111,000 homes, displacing 341 metric tons of carbon dioxide (the equivalent of taking 73,000 cars off the road).

Choking back tears at the flip-switching ceremony, Daboda said, “This is something I’ll never forget… It took us seven years to get here.” The facility employed 600 people during construction, including 115 Indians.


‘We see you’

There was another press conference in late July: one held by Interior Secretary Zinke on a private ranch in Bunkerville at the end of his curtailed Nevada visit. Waiting for the secretary to arrive for the outdoor event, photographers and reporters clustered in the 110-degree shade chatting. Logandale resident Lindsey Dalley, who was there taking photos for the Moapa Valley Progress newspaper, told Nevada Forward Editor Andrew Davey and me that we in the mainstream media were missing the bigger picture by focusing too much on the Native American perspective of the national monuments. There were families spread all over the Moapa Valley, Dalley said, that had been there for several generations. They consider the places where they’ve fished and hunted and picnicked to be part of their history.

“It’s a living history,” Dalley repeated several times. He explained that this meant they don’t want familiar areas to be cordoned off, like in a museum. They want to be able to continue going there, reminiscing with their children and grandchildren.

My reaction was puzzlement: Nothing I’d read in the Basin and Range or Gold Butte national monument proclamations led me to believe that a family visiting favorite spots would be forbidden. But Dalley said he and others believed the BLM intended to whittle away access by closing roads and enshrining historical sites such as the Gold Butte Township, curtailing their ability to roam freely over the land.

Interestingly, the Southern Paiutes fear exactly the opposite: too much access. They’d prefer to keep their historical places hidden, or at least pristine. It saddens them to think that people might walk or drive through significant sites, ignorant of the pottery shards or agave roasting pits underfoot. Anderson gave the example of the famous Falling Man petroglyph in Gold Butte. People hike out to see it, he says, without realizing that, unless they go a certain route, they’re trampling an area where Indians used to gather to make arrowheads for hunting. Paiutes go there to commune with the spirits of those hunters.

These opposing desires — access versus preservation — converge in both of Nevada’s national monuments. During my visit to the Logan ghost town site in the Mt. Irish section of Basin and Range, Patrick Naranjo, the American Indian cultural artifacts specialist who works at UNLV, spotted a petroglyph-covered rock just a couple yards from where a rancher had installed a watering tank for his cattle. Nearby, a patch of ground showed signs of cows having gathered there: the foliage was flattened and the dirt dimpled with hoof prints.

Naranjo was horrified. “This is terrible!” he said, waving his arms between the ancient art and the cow wallow. “How would you guys feel if I kenneled my dogs in a room in the Louvre?”

Adding insult to this injury is the European descendants’ sense of entitlement, Daboda says: “When they talk about, you know, three or four generations, we’ve been here since time immemorial, so to us that’s a slap in the face. … When they say, ‘We’ve been doing this farming, agging, cattlemen, and utilizing the public lands,’ they don’t understand that, with their cattle they’re impacting our culture, because the hoofing from the animals is eroding springs, and the artifacts that have been left over time are being damaged and can’t be replaced. … So, when they bring that issue up, to us, their ties are overseas.”

Still, Daboda and Dalley share a mistrust of the federal government. It’s easy to understand this from the Paiutes’ historical perspective, and their sense of betrayal gets continual reinforcement. Daboda points out that U.S. protection of Indian artifacts, for instance, generally privileges scientific study over preservation, turning the objects over to anthropologists and archaeologists rather than entrusting them to the care of tribes who believe they have a more legitimate connection.

“Everybody wants to see the historic Native American and study him from an ethnographic standpoint,” Naranjo says. “But when it comes to pipeline issues or social justice issues or things that are happening in real time … there’s an uncertainty about validating these (connections) for what they are.”

To put it less academically, people of European descent are fine with objectifying the Indian experience to serve their own narrative (or for their own entertainment), but not with opening a dialog about the Indian experience with those actually living it today — particularly if that dialog could result in losing a valued asset or practice.

Consider Chaco Canyon, one of the first areas to be proclaimed a national monument under the Antiquities Act, in 1907. Chaco Canyon was the hub of a huge ancient Puebloan civilization that stretched for hundreds of miles. Today, it’s called Chaco Culture National Historical Park and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Despite that, and objections of the Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, and other Pueblo Indians, the BLM leased 850 acres of land within 20 miles of the park for oil and gas drilling in January of this year, earning nearly $3 million. Some 90 percent of the ancestral area has already been developed.

“How can we continue to entertain these kinds of economic interests that represent settler colonialism?” Naranjo asks, “If 100 years ago you started this (act), and it has international and North American interests and scientific value, then we have to say, in 2017, ‘You guys gotta stop drilling for oil next to our sacred sites’?”

None of the Indians that I talked to expects the government to turn Basin and Range and Gold Butte’s collective 1 million acres over to the tribes; they just want a substantial say in the process. Daboda would like to see more collaboration like the partnership the Paiutes have developed with Friends of Gold Butte, which is aware of culturally sensitive areas and helps to guard them from damage. The nonprofit lobbied for inclusion of Paiute cultural liaisons in the national monument management plan, so that the natives can help educate visitors and provide maintenance and security for special places. Daboda hopes for a similar arrangement at Basin and Range.

But another reason he was disappointed that he didn’t get to meet with Zinke during the secretary’s visit was that he had planned to address issues beyond the national monument review: the hunting and water rights that the tribe lost when the government shrank its reservation, for instance, and the land conveyance act that would restore an additional 26,000 acres. However the national monument review turns out, the tribe’s desire for restitution will remain. The tribe will remain.

Fawn Douglas was one of several locals who traveled to the Standing Rock Sioux reservation to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota last winter, and she has stayed active in the national movement that grew out of the protest. Social media allows groups like the Indigenous Environmental Network to easily gather support from far and wide. It also highlights common causes shared by groups coalescing around separate issues. For instance, it gives Douglas a chance to share her view of cultural oppression — seen through the lens of her desire to protect public lands — with those who have a similar view as they fight for the removal of Confederate statues from the public square.

On August 14, Douglas reposted a Womxn of Color LV Facebook message, a response to the white supremacist march in Charlottesville, N.C., and the violence that followed: “To all of our people: We have seen this. We have lived this … We have been fighting for our lives for hundreds of years. … We have resisted and have come out stronger. We were resilient in the face of this war of attrition. We will reclaim our traditions and our long-lost birth rights. We are with you. We see you.”

Reversing Course

Can the president change the national monuments designated by a previous president?

In April, President Trump issued an executive order calling for the review of 27 national monuments designated by Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama under the federal Antiquities Act. While conservationists see these designations as necessary to protect historical and scientific artifacts, ranging from Native American wall paintings to the Grand Canyon, conservatives have called them federal land grabs. As with the Grand Canyon, some monuments eventually become national parks.

Trump has ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review monuments larger than 100,000 acres designated since 1996. Specifically, he asked Zinke to determine if those designations received enough public input and meet the Antiquities Act’s requirement that designations must only be large enough to protect the artifacts they house. Zinke recently completed his review of Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument and called for it to be “right-sized.”

But how? Nevada Congresswoman Dina Titus says that any modification would have to go through Congress: “They could try to overturn the Antiquities Act, narrow it, or do some specific legislation geared toward a specific project, but it would be legislation.”

The question of whether the president can bypass Congress and modify already designated monuments has been a long unanswered legal mystery. The Constitution gives Congress the sole authority to manage public lands, but Congress occasionally delegates that power. Through the passage of the Antiquities Act of 1906, Congress gave the president limited authority to declare national monuments. However, it does not explicitly give the president power to revoke a designation.

By email, Mark Squillace, professor of natural resources law at the University of Colorado, Boulder, pointed out that two delegations of that power enacted around the same time — the 1897 Forest Service Law and The Pickett Act of 1910 — include language that gives the president broader authority to rescind and modify public lands withdrawals declared though those acts.

Squillace said the Antiquities Act was developed to ensure the president had the power to protect public land resources before they could be exploited by developers, since he could act more quickly than Congress. “Conversely,” he added, “it does not make much sense to allow a president to authorize the exploitation of important public lands resources that had been protected by a previous president until Congress has had the chance to pass on the wisdom of the original reservation.”

In 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt considered rescinding the Castle-Pinckney National Monument in South Carolina, and asked Attorney General Homer Cummings for his legal opinion. Cummings’ response: “The act does not authorize the president to abolish monuments after they have been established.” The president, he said, had no implied authority.

Still, there is no definitive legal opinion from the courts on this issue because no president has tried to rescind a monument, and the 18 times that monument borders were modified through executive orders were never legally challenged. They all also occurred before the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, where Congress reaffirmed that they have the final say regarding monument designations.

But various groups have said they will challenge monument changes made by the Trump administration. Squillace said that the plaintiffs of a challenge would have a strong case arguing that the Antiquities Act grants the president only one-way authority to reserve national monuments.

Two attorneys, John Yoo and Todd Gaziano, argued in a paper for the American Enterprise Institute that President Trump could claim some of these monuments are invalid because they don’t meet the act’s original intent of reserving the smallest area compatible with the protected objects. Squillace said this argument is hard to make considering that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the designation of the 800,000-acre Grand Canyon National Monument in the 1920 Cameron v. United States case.

It would also force a court to favor the judgment of one president over the other, since Presidents Clinton and Obama carefully defined the objects they wanted to protect in broad terms like landscapes and ecosystems. “They will likely conclude that this was the role that Congress reserved for itself,” Squillace said.

He does concede that there is a chance that a court could side with the Trump administration, “if only to give deference and respect to executive decisions.” Bruce Gil

Standing Their Ground

The Bundy clan as the voice of opposition to Gold Butte

The Virgin River and Lime Canyon Wilderness Area in Gold Butte. Photo Courtesy of Jose Witt

“Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!”

You hear them before you see them. There are maybe 100 of them, 150. They’ve been at the Lloyd D. George Courthouse in Downtown Las Vegas since 7 a.m. on this Saturday, July 15, gathered for a “Stand with the Bundys” event. A few weeks from now, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is expected to announce the future of Gold Butte National Monument, which he is reviewing under the executive order President Trump made back in April.

They are not protesters, they say, but supporters of the Bundys. They wear shirts that read, “Beware, you might be next” and hold signs that read, “Free Bundy” and “Held Without Bail.” Each carries an American flag as they march around the courthouse. Passing drivers beep in support.

Why are they here? On July 10, the retrial of Bundy supporters Eric Parker, O. Scott Drexler, Richard Lovelien, and Steven Stewart began. They are in court because of the infamous 2014 standoff with the BLM at the Bundy ranch. The BLM arrived to gather up Cliven Bundy’s cattle because he had refused to pay grazing fees for two decades, and all hell broke loose when law enforcement realized the militia gathered at the ranch was armed.

Briana Bundy, wife of Cliven Bundy’s son Mel, is at the event, taking a break from marching to get some shade. Mel was detained on March 3, 2016. He’s pleaded not guilty for the 2014 standoff, his lawyer reasoning that Mel is innocent because he was carrying a flag, not a gun. Fourteen of the 17 defendants face charges of conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, conspiracy to impede and injure a federal law enforcement officer, use and carry of a firearm in relation to a crime in violence, and other offenses.

According to Briana, their rights have been violated.

“They have violated our due process,” she says. “They denied our right to a speedy trial. They have hand-selected the jury without allowing us to have a say so in it. They’ve abused (the men on trial) and violated their rights for pretrial release.”

This isn’t Briana’s first rodeo. Back in January, she joined residents of Moapa Valley and Virgin Valley to protest President Obama’s designation of Gold Butte as a national monument.

On May 26, Briana wrote a letter to Zinke, in which she addressed her concerns and discontent with the monument.

“Much like Bears Ears (in Utah), the Gold Butte Monument, set in place by President Obama, will destroy generations of blood, sweat, and tears, and take our dated waters, as we will lose access to them,” Briana wrote. However, according to the Gold Butte National Monument proclamation, “The establishment of the monument is subject to valid existing rights, including valid existing water rights.”

Mesquite and Virgin Valley were concerned about their water right access because five of six district springs are located within the Gold Butte boundaries, but they eventually came around to supporting the monument.

The Mayor of Mesquite, Allan Litman, is fine with the Gold Butte designation. According to Litman, all that would need to be done for the Virgin Valley Water District to continue accessing its water is carve out relevant areas of Gold Butte, so they would no longer be part of the monument.

Another of Briana’s concerns is the land access.

Desert Companion welcomed Heidi Kyser as staff writer in January 2014. In 2018, she was promoted to senior writer and producer, working for both DC and State of Nevada. She produced KNPR’s first podcast, the Edward R. Murrow Regional Award-winning Native Nevada, in 2020. The following year, she returned her focus full-time to Desert Companion, becoming Deputy Editor, which meant she was next in line to take over when longtime editor Andrew Kiraly left in July 2022.