op-ed

When Public Lands Are Sacred Lands

Six years ago, I received a phone call from an auntie in Oahu, Hawai’i who said, “Kambree, I need your help and, more importantly, I need your voice! Our most sacred mountain is about to be desecrated!”

She only had to ask once.

The one thing I will always stand up for is the protection of sacred lands, which is why even though I have been an enthusiastic supporter of Donald Trump since the moment he started his campaign for President, I am willing to stand up and say that any effort to reduce the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah is absolutely wrong.

I understand that many Americans do not fundamentally understand Indigenous Culture and the spiritual nature of Native peoples.

While the land is important to all Americans, Native peoples share a special bond and relationship with the land.

Think of your place of worship, where you live, land your family has passed down from generation to generation, land your ancestors died on fighting in battle to keep your culture alive, land your family farmed on, and land your family is buried on. Now imagine all of that being threatened by the government.

In an instant, your place of worship is torn down, your land is taken from you, the final resting place of your ancestors are disturbed and desecrated.

This is literally what indigenous people all over our country — and the world — face on an almost daily basis, and this is exactly what will happen if the federal protections for Bears Ears National Monument are weakened.

During the Republican primaries, candidate Trump was the only candidate willing to break with the GOP establishment and reject efforts to dismantle our federal public lands.

Next month, President Trump is expected to decide on whether or not to follow a recommendation from Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to dramatically shrink Bears Ears National Monument, which contains more than 100,000 Native American archaeological and cultural sites, considered sacred by many tribes.

A total of 30 tribes have expressed support for protecting these sacred lands by protecting the Bears Ears National Monument.

The tribes not only seek to protect the lands but they also seek to have a greater voice in how this land is managed, noting that:

When they return to Bears Ears today, Native American people feel the presence of their ancestors everywhere. This landscape records their ancestors’ migration routes, ancient roads, great houses, villages, granaries, hogans, wikiups, sweat lodges, corrals, petroglyphs and pictographs, tipi rings, shade houses, and burial grounds. Our people are surrounded by the spirits of the ancestors, and embraced by the ongoing evolution of their culture and traditions. For Native American people, Bears Ears is a place for healing. It is also a place for teaching children—Native American children and the world’s children— about meaningful and lasting connections with sacred and storied lands.

I know what the tribes in Utah are facing. It is what people are facing here in Hawai’i with the proposal to put an 18 story, 1.44 acre telescope atop the most sacred mountain in Hawai’i, Mauna Kea.

Some Native Hawaiians believe Mauna Kea is the origination point of Hawaiian Islands. It is so sacred that Hawaiians have been known to bury their umbilical cords on the mountain as a way of connecting themselves back to the sacred land. Offerings are given. Prayers passed down from generations are chanted daily.

Despite the sacred nature of Mauna Kea, some believe the land could be better used for scientific purposes. These are people who see places like Mauna Kea and Bears Ears as nothing more than another commodity.

For Native peoples, however, there is land that is much more than a simple commodity that can be bought and sold and exploited, for Native peoples there is land that is sacred.

I urge President Trump to stand with Native peoples, defend our traditions and defend our sacred lands. You ran promising to Make America Great Again, and plenty of Native peoples — including myself — believed in you and supported you. Now we need you.

Kambree Kawahine Koa is a radio and television contributor based in California.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.