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Mark Trahant: Federal land battle surfaces in presidential race

Nevada Land - Ted Cruz

#NativeVote16 – Battle over federal land surfaces in presidential debate
Rightful owners of Nevada’s land?
By Mark Trahant

Ted Cruz just joined the Sage Brush Rebellion.

A new 30-second spot, “Nevada Land,” says the land belongs to the people of Nevada, “not Washington bureaucrats.” To make his point Cruz features a picture of cattle grazing, presumably on federal lands.”If you trust me with your vote, I will return full control of Nevada’s lands to its rightful owners, its citizens. Count on it.”

Count on it? Rightful owners? The whole Sagebrush Rebel narrative misses the point that tribes in the region have called the area home for more than 10,000 years and if there’s any claim to rightful ownership then it’s the first owners who have the rightful claim.

Indeed at the MSNBC Town Hall on Thursday night, former Moapa Tribal Chairman William Anderson asked Sen. Bernie Sanders about more land that ought to have stronger federal protection.

Gold Butte in Nevada. Photo by Brian McDaniels via Facebook

“My people, the Nuwuvi, the Southern Paiutes here, we’re trying to go ahead work towards Gold Butte as a national monument too. There is a lot of recent issues that came up here, and what I want to really ask is is that there are those who oppose the American people’s ownership of public lands, and would see those lands sold to private interest. As president, how would you ensure that our public lands remain in public hands, and preserve our heritage and lives by stopping corporations from destroying Mother Earth? ”

Sanders answered the question broadly.

“I don’t have to explain to you, or I hope anybody in this room, or anybody watching the outrageous way, unfair way, that governments have treated Native Americans from day one. It is a disgrace," Sander said, according to the MSNBC and Telemundo transcript.

“Number two, I will — you know, you’re raising issues in terms of extraction of fossil fuels, for example," he continued. "I believe that climate change is one of the great challenges facing this planet, and what I have introduced legislation to do, by the way, it to say that we will not extract fossil fuels in the future from any public lands."

“Number three, I understand that it is absolutely important that the federal government do much more than it is now doing to work with the Native American community in preserving their heritage, and their way of life. And, I will do everything I can to bring that about," Sanders said.

An April 2014 scene at the Bundy Ranch in Nevada. Photo from The Anti-Media / Facebook

What is the Gold Butte issue about? It’s already federally-controlled land but a number of tribes, environmentalists, and Nevada cities have called for either presidential or congressional action to give permanent protection to the area’s wildlife, including desert tortoise, desert bighorn sheep, the banded Gila monster, great horned owls and a great variety of reptiles, birds and mammals, as well as protecting archaeological resources, including rock art, caves, agave roasting pits and camp sites that date back some 3,000 years.

Generally Republicans say the land should not have additional protection from the federal government and Democrats want legislation to make the monument status permanent. Nevada Sen. Dean Heller said last year that any federal action would be an escalation “in a region of our state where tensions are already presently high.”

But that’s also the point of Cruz’ new ad. He says Donald Trump is not sufficiently a rebel. Trump told Field and Stream magazine that he didn’t like the idea of the federal government turning over land to the states.

“I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do. I mean, are they going to sell if they get into a little bit of trouble?" Trump said. "And I don’t think it’s something that should be sold. We have to be great stewards of this land. This is magnificent land.”

Stewards? Magnificent land? For sage brush rebels those are fighting words. And Gold Butte just happens to be where one Cliven Bundy and his militia supporters forced the Bureau of Land Management to back off last year after threats of violence. Except the federal government was patient. Now it’s Bundy who’s awaiting trial. Perhaps that’s why Cruz tried to capture the spirit of the movement without mentioning any names.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

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