Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, left, in Utah. Photo: U.S. DOI

Gregory Ablavsky: President Trump continues dark chapter with treatment of tribes

When states go up against tribes, who usually wins? Professor Gregory Ablasky believes President Donald Trump is showing his true colors when it comes to the Bears Ears National Monument and other "public" lands that used to belong to tribes:
This move is hardly a surprise. Trump made his views on the subject clear when he first initiated a review of the monument’s protected status, describing it as a “massive federal land grab.” “Today we’re putting the states back in charge,” he crowed. “It’s a big thing.”

Trump’s announcement likely warmed the hearts of Utah’s political leaders, who have long demanded the “return” of federal lands to state control. In 2012, Utah enacted a law purporting to mandate this transfer — a statute cited by Ammon Bundy to defend his armed occupation of a national wildlife refuge in Oregon.

But this argument has two big flaws. First, the states were never “in charge” of these lands in the first place. The “Founders” that conservatives purport to revere explicitly determined that the federal government, not the states, would control public lands in the West. The Constitution gives the federal government power over “Property belonging to the United States.” Beginning in 1812, Congress required nearly every new state — including Utah — to foreswear all rights to federal land upon admission.

But the second flaw concerns the way the fight over Western lands is painted — as yet another competition between states representing local interests and a distant, overbearing federal bureaucracy. In fact, as Bears Ears highlights, the question of federal lands has always involved another group of locals decidedly not represented by states: Native nations, whose land ownership predates the United States and who had their lands stripped by the federal government and the states.

Read More on the Story:
Gregory Ablavsky: States battle the federal government for control of public lands. They both have long trampled on Native American rights. (The Washington Post November 9, 2017)

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