By Maite Arce and Hillerie Patton for The Hill
June 8 marks 111 years since President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act, opening the door for sixteen Presidents — eight Democrats and eight Republicans — to designate national monuments that reflect our nation’s diversity.
National monuments like Bears Ears in Utah, Gold Butte in Nevada, and San Gabriel Mountains in California engage and pay homage to the cultures and communities that contribute to our country’s great history.
This week we celebrate the anniversary of the Antiquities Act, as we continue to protest President Donald Trump’s attempts to undermine it. The president recently launched an assault on the Antiquities Act through his April 26 Executive Order, showing dishonor for U.S. public lands and extreme contempt for one of the nation’s most important conservation tools.
The order called for a review of all national monuments over 100,000 acres created since 1996, or where the Secretary of the Interior arbitrarily determines the designation was made with insufficient input.
This misguided mandate threatens to marginalize, erase, and censor the stories, histories and experiences embodied by our nation’s public lands. It will take us a giant step backward, and reopen wounds that, for many, have only begun to heal.
The 27 national monuments under review include places like the Grand Canyon, the Sonoran Desert, Giant Sequoia, Mojave Trails and Rio Grande del Norte.
These monuments are essential cultural and historical touchstones for a wide range of people and communities, representing a future that respects and engages all people.
By calling into question the relevancy and validity of these national monuments, our diverse communities are forced to re-experience the trauma of cultural erasure and continue to fight for their existence and acceptance as part of the American story.
The Antiquities Act provides increased representation for people of color in America, as evidenced through the protection of places like Cesar Chavez National Monument and Freedom Riders National Monument. It has helped provide marginalized communities with access to the outdoors and natural heritage through monuments like San Gabriel Mountains and those in the California desert. Trump’s review of these national monuments dishonors the cultures and histories embodied by these sacred public lands.
Each of these monuments — and the plans guiding their management — come with well-documented facts about the cultural and natural resources that will be preserved. Neither President Trump nor Congress can shrink, eliminate or alter national monuments without undermining the very resources they protect. No president has ever even attempted to revoke a predecessor’s monument designation, even where some initial public disagreement over the designation existed.
National monuments are a powerful symbol of our democratic ideals, because they belong to all Americans - rich and poor, urban and rural, young and old, from all backgrounds, genders, cultures, religious viewpoints, and walks of life. Decisions to protect them were not made in a vacuum or on a Presidential whim. Each one was the result of significant community engagement – agency-held public meetings, phone calls, letters and the input of tens of thousands of Americans who voiced their support. A 120-day or less review of these monuments makes a mockery of the transparent, civil process taken to engage the public in these decisions.
We urge any American who cares to see these ideals preserved to make their voices heard during the Administration’s brief public comment period. Visit monumentsforall.org to submit your thoughts and feedback — the public has until July 10 to do so, and the review period closes August 25.
America’s national monuments should mirror the spirit of its people, and embody the historic and cultural achievements of communities across the country. Join us in making our voices heard — we can’t let threats to our national monuments be yet another way Trump attempts to silence the voices of American people.
Maite Arce is president and CEO of Hispanic Access Foundation. Hillerie Patton is president of the Dignitas Agency and former employee of Nevada’s Bureau of Land Management.