June 10, 2017

In the June issue of The Atlantic, School of Social Work Associate Professor Bonnie Duran observes that the constriction of tribal lands, among other factors, constitutes historical trauma that affects Indians through generations. Since the 19th century, nearly every Native American reservation has shrunk in size. In 1881, tribes held claim to 156 million acres; today, Indian reservations take up 56.2 million acres. History may repeat itself if the Bears Ears region in southeast Utah, which numerous Southwest tribes consider sacred, has its status as a national monument modified or revoked.

“All of these systems of life were taken away from tribal people,” said Duran who is the research director of the School-affiliated Indigenous Wellness Research Institute. She recently surveyed collaborators at more than 20 tribal colleges to develop a mental-health assessment tailored to Indian culture. Those surveyed made it clear that land access has a direct link to Native American mental health. “They said, ‘The biggest impact on our mental health is a lack of access to our traditional homelands for ceremonies, for traditional forms of exercise, for access to fish or wildlife.”

In late April, President Donald Trump signed an executive order calling for the Department of the Interior to review national monuments created under previous administrations, dating back to 1996.

The 1906 Antiquities Act grants the president the power to create national monuments. During his time in office, Obama designated more national monuments than any other president. In response, Trump has taken a cue from Utah political leaders and criticized his predecessor. Announcing the monument review in April, with Utah Governor Gary Herbert and much of the state’s congressional delegation by his side, Trump chided Obama’s use of the Antiquities Act. “It’s gotten worse and worse and worse, and now we’re going to free it up,” he said. “This should never have happened.”

Should the Bears Ears review result in a downsizing, or outright revocation of the monument status, observes The Atlantic, it would be the latest example of the federal government setting aside land in conjunction with tribes, only to break the agreement.

Note: On June 11, following the publication of The Atlantic article, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke proposed to significantly scale back the borders of the national monument, but he recommended that no final decision be made until a review of the 26 other monuments is completed in late August.