You may have heard that Donald Trump drastically downsized two national monuments that protected Native American cultural resources in Utah. At first it just seemed like another one of his attacks on national parks, but it turns out there is a darker element at work: Mormon religious fundamentalism and the anti-native racism that often accompanies it.
Trump decided to scale back the Bears Ears National Monument by more than 1.1 million acres, and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by more than 800,000 acres, making it the biggest reduction in lands protected by the government in U.S. history. But what’s missing from most of the headlines is that he did so after meeting with Mormon leaders, and that they petitioned him months ago based on their religious belief that Native people are cursed with their dark skin by God.
Trump met with Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency of the Mormon Church, and Russell M. Nelson, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Mormon Church, in the closed-door meeting where he received Church doctrine.
During the closed, late-morning meeting, the Church leaders and President Trump, along with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), discussed religious liberty and the Church’s welfare programs. The president praised the Church’s humanitarian efforts and also recognized President Nelson’s renown as a heart surgeon…
Afterward, President Eyring and President Nelson said they also shared Church doctrine with the president during his visit.
This meeting, and its significance, has largely been overlooked by the media as they cover Trump’s decision to downsize the monuments. It is incredibly telling, though, because it points to possible motivations for the move, as explained in The Revelator.
It remains unknown what was discussed when Trump met with the top leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during the closed meeting.
But if Trump had also chosen to sit down with experts such as Thomas Murphy and Angelo Baca, two scholars of American Indian descent who were raised Mormon, he surely would have heard a different perspective on Mormon doctrine from the one offered by church leaders.Trump would have heard how latent racism, a history of grave robbery beginning with LDS founder Joseph Smith, disrespect of tribal sovereignty and a belief in divine right to the land are at the heart Utah’s relentless drive to seize control of federal public lands, particularly Bears Ears.
Thomas Murphy, the chairman of the anthropology department at Edmonds (Washington) Community College who is also of Mohawk descent, says Native American tribes couldn’t get their lands protected in Mormon-controlled Utah until they petitioned the federal government. Then-President Obama granted their request, allowing native people to take back a piece of what was stolen from them by Mormons who claimed it as their divine right.
“The presumption of the right of the settler colonists (to the land) is not unique to Mormons,” Murphy tells The Revelator. But, he says, what’s unique to Mormon settler colonists is that they use scripture to justify their actions.
“When you add a divine sanction to it you get an element of righteous zeal that I think is playing out” in the intense opposition to Bears Ears National Monument from Utah’s elected leaders, nearly all of whom are Mormons, he says. “There’s not just a righteous zeal, but there’s a righteous fury.”
Trump previously admitted this move was for Hatch, a Mormon who consistently sides with the church most issues. Regardless of how much Trump knows about the deeper debate, Hatch and other Mormons in power want this land because they believe it is their God-given right, and not Native Americans’. It’s pretty clear from an objective review of the facts that this land is contested for religious reasons based on racism, and that’s something we simply can’t tolerate.
A group of Native American tribes, including Hopi, Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute, the Navajo Nation, and the Ute Indian, already sued Trump for violating the Constitution and the Antiquities Act of 1906, so we will see where the courts land on this issue. But it wouldn’t surprise me to discover this is an illegal move, especially when the dots are connected.