Over 5,000 demonstrators launched major protests in Salt Lake City Saturday against plans to downsize federal public property in Utah surrounding President Donald Trump's visit to the state.
As state officials prepare for Trump's arrival on Monday, police forces bulked up in anticipation of the president’s “surprise” announcement detailing the series of cuts to state monuments and land reserves.
Documents released by the Associated Press revealed Trump’s plans to reduce two of the state’s national monuments in the state’s red rock country by 3.2 million. The administration intends to downsize Bears Ears National Monument, the country’s first Native American monument, by almost 85 percent and the Grand Staircase Escalante by almost half.
According to local media, Trump will not be visiting either of the sites awaiting the federal chopping block during his presidential visit.
The weekend protests were organized by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the Native American activist organization Utah Dine Bikeyah, that works to protect Indigenous culture and respect for public tribal lands around the state.
“This is truly a monumental mistake,” said Rep. Patrice Arent (D-Utah) to protesters, local media reported. “These national treasures are owned by all Americans and future generations. We will not let our sacred monuments be broken up and downsized.”
Five Native American nations, members of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, are preparing to file suit following the official announcement next week. The historical monument of Bears Ears to the Navajo nation holds sacred importance, while the Grand Staircase-Escalante has been an archaeological treasure, a haven of numerous dinosaur fossils.
Critics say the cut will most likely only open the reserves to commercial interests such as grazing, logging, coal, mining, and drilling.
“The tribes view this as an affront to themselves and their own self-determination,” said the Native American Rights Fund’s senior staff attorney Natalie Landreth. “All of us, all five tribes, will be suing jointly the day [Trump] makes an announcement.”
The five nations pushing for legal action are the Hopi, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni and the Ute Indian Tribe.
The administration’s plans for Utah’s national monuments are part of a recommendation to reduce at least four sites in the west, a memo published by the Washington Post in September reported, while 27 more were put under review in April.