Out on the Carrizo Plain, the Chumash — the indigenous people of this land — make ceremony. We burn sacred fires and Grandfather Sage, cleansing the people and lifting their hearts. As old songs pierce the nighttime stillness and shadows dance across painted rock walls, we close the gap of distance and time. We become one with Hutash-Mother-Earth and all to whom we are connected — past, present and future, human and non-human.
This is what Native people do on Carrizo Plain: We cherish our common heritage. Our beloved national monument is fulfilling its promise as a natural, remote and wild place available for all people, and we treasure the protections that allow that promise to remain intact.
That’s why I’m alarmed by the Trump administration’s review of Carrizo Plain and other national monuments. Just recently, a report leaked from the White House makes clear the administration and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke are using this review to prepare for an unprecedented attack on protected public lands.
In his report, Zinke recommended eliminating vast portions of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which straddles the Oregon/California border, and opening these protected lands to mining, logging, and drilling. He also recommended revoking protections for three other national monuments — Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah and Gold Butte in Nevada — and called for management changes for several other land and marine monuments. These recommendations give us a preview of what could happen to Carrizo Plain.
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Carrizo Plain and other California national monuments weren’t named in the Interior Secretary’s report — a conspicuous absence. Even if Carrizo Plain wasn’t attacked by name in the draft report, the glaring omission of six California national monuments from the document should do the opposite of making us feel safe. We cannot assume Carrizo Plain or any national monument is off the chopping block.
This arbitrary review threatens to strip protections from some of Carrizo Plain’s most sacred places. Places like Painted Rock — the crown jewel of Carrizo, as far as heritage sites are concerned — reflect the complex spiritual relationships Native Americans have with lands like these. National monument protections assure Native people access to ceremonial sites on the Carrizo, which empower us to preserve our indigenous identity and traditions.
More than 100 Native American heritage sites have been identified on Carrizo Plain, and that’s only on the 10 percent of land that’s been archaeologically surveyed. Attempts to change the fabric of places like this threaten our tribe’s, and our nation’s, historical, cultural and natural heritage. Sites like Painted Rock suffered a lot of damage before they were safeguarded by national monument designations — they deserve to be preserved for generations to come.
Eliminating protections from national monuments is unpopular not only with Native Americans, but with Americans at large. In a record-breaking response, more than 2.8 million comments flooded the Interior Department during the Administration’s 60-day comment period. An analysis of the comments found that more than 99 percent of respondents support maintaining or expanding national monuments. And nearly everyone who mentioned Carrizo Plain spoke up for its protection.
I’ve been present at Bureau of Land Management’s numerous planning sessions for Carrizo Plain, where members of the broader community, through an open democratic process, unite behind a common intention: “To preserve important historical, cultural, and natural aspects of our national heritage and maintain, wherever possible, an environment that supports diversity and variety of individual choice.”
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke never visited any of the California national monuments he “reviewed,” nor met with any advocates to discuss the protected lands. Years of public input go into designating national monuments, and behind each one is a series of well-documented facts about their cultural and natural resources. Trump cannot shrink national monuments without eroding protections for these resources, and quite simply, he doesn’t have the legal authority to do so. Any such action will be immediately challenged in court.
There’s a lot of apprehension in the tribal community as the government threatens to revoke protections for Carrizo Plain and other national monuments. But as I tell the students in my government classes at Clovis East High School, our leaders have a responsibility to respond when we stand up and say what we want. And to my Native friends who lament the threats as “another broken promise, another broken treaty,” I remind them: This won’t pass quietly. The people want their national monuments, and it’s never been more important for them to say it loudly.
We must continue to let the administration know that no monument is “safe” so long as secrets are being kept, and while other public lands are in jeopardy. Send a tweet to President Trump (@POTUS) and Secretary Zinke (@SecretaryZinke) and tell them you oppose any changes to Carrizo Plain or any national monument.
Mike Khus-Zarate is a member of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation and former member of the Carrizo Plain Monument Advisory Committee. He teaches government and economics at Clovis East High School.