In new national monuments, President Obama continues to allow native uses, elevate tribal voices

Aug 26, 2016

By Center for Western Priorities

Thursday, the National Park Service celebrated its 100th anniversary, commemorating a legacy of protecting and preserving America’s national and cultural wonders for future generations. This week President Obama added to the legacy of our parks by designating the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in northern Maine and expanding the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument off the coast of Hawaii. While opponents of proposed monuments in the West have claimed monument designations will prevent Native Americans from conducting traditional practices, these new monuments show those claims are merely scare tactics.

In southeastern Utah, a coalition of five Native American tribes has asked the president to protect the Bears Ears region as a national monument. Home to an estimated 100,000 archaeological sites, the scenic region is threatened by looting and vandalism. Opponents of the Bears Ears National Monument often say that such a designation would prohibit tribes from traditional practices such as gathering firewood, collecting piñon nuts and conducting tribal ceremonies. As we have written previously, the Obama administration has shown a consistent track record of consulting with tribes and ensuring tribal members have access to national monuments for traditional practices.

On Wednesday, President Obama designated the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, encompassing more than 87,000 acres of rugged terrain donated by Roxanne Quimby, the founder of Burt’s Bees. Native Americans have inhabited the area, adjacent to Maine’s Baxter State Park, as far back as 11,000 years, using rivers to travel throughout the region. According to the presidential proclamation designating the national monument,

“Nothing in this proclamation shall be deemed to enlarge or diminish the rights of any Indian tribe. The Secretary shall, to the maximum extent permitted by law and in consultation with Indian tribes, ensure the protection of Indian sacred sites and cultural sites in the monument and provide access to the sites by members of Indian tribes for traditional cultural and customary uses, consistent with the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (42 U.S.C. 1996) and Executive Order 13007 of May 24, 1996 (Indian Sacred Sites).”

On Friday, the president expanded the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, initially designated by President George W. Bush. Situated off the west coast of Hawaii, this area has great cultural and spiritual significance to Native Hawaiians. In addition to allowing non-commercial fishing, the presidential proclamation expanding the national monument allows as regulated activities,

“Native Hawaiian practices, including exercise of traditional, customary, cultural, subsistence, spiritual, and religious practices within the Monument Expansion.”

Further, the White House announced a commitment to elevating the voices of Native Hawaiians in managing the monument extension, declaring,

“Secretary of the Interior Jewell and Secretary of Commerce Pritzker also announced that the Departments will soon sign an agreement with Hawaii’s Department of Natural Resources and Office of Hawaiian Affairs providing for a greater management role as a trustee in the PapahƒÅnaumokuƒÅkea Marine National Monument. This arrangement has been previously requested by Senator Brian Schatz and Governor Ige.”

As vandals and looters continue to threaten archaeological and cultural sites in southeastern Utah, the need to designate a Bears Ears National Monument is clear. The latest national monument designations by President Obama show such a proclamation would continue the consistent track record of consulting with Native American tribes and ensuring tribal practices are protected.