Last Friday, a federal judge made a big decision.
Judge Nuffer, a Utah District Court Judge, dismissed Utah lawsuits that challenged President Biden’s use of the Antiquities Act of 1906 to restore Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
The judge stayed very focused in his decision. He concluded that Congress, via the Antiquities Act, gave the president the authority to establish national monuments—“at his discretion.” He therefore concluded: “President Biden’s judgment in drafting and issuing the Proclamations as he sees fit is not an action reviewable by a district court.”
At the end of his 28-page “MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS,” Judge Nuffer presented the following Order: “Federal Defendants’ and Tribal Nations’ motions to dismiss are hereby GRANTED with prejudice. The clerk is directed to close the case.”
Although this is a clear win for the Tribes and their many allies who have worked tirelessly to protect these places, it’s not the end of the story. An appeal of this decision has been filed—a process that will likely consume a year or so. And regardless of the outcome of that appeal, this will likely—ultimately—be elevated to the Supreme Court.
Regarding more somber recent events, here are some ways to support communities on Maui via ʻĀina Momona.
President & CEO, Archaeology Southwest
Banner image: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, R.E. Burrillo
Monuments Lawsuit Dismissed; Antiquities Act Holds
The Hopi Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, represented by the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) intervened in two lawsuits that threatened to remove protections from the Bears Ears National Monument, for which Native peoples advocated for many decades. On August 11, 2023, the court dismissed the cases and the Bears Ears protections were upheld. Native American Rights Fund | Review the time line of the proceedings »
On Friday, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit from Utah politicians who challenged President Joe Biden’s restoration of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase–Escalante national monuments. Judge David Nuffer ruled, consistent with numerous prior cases, that since Congress granted the president the authority to designate national monuments on national public lands, “Congress knows how to restrict statutory presidential power.” Look West (Center for Western Priorities) | Read more »
Links to major media coverage are included at the end of CWP’s post.
On Monday, Utah filed its intent to appeal the ruling to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, the logical next step in the case. If the court doesn’t deliver a ruling Cox and other leaders want, then it could be further appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. But even if that happens, [Steve] Bloch [legal director for Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance] said he believes this challenge would go the direction of all the other lawsuits in the past. “We’re confident that the Antiquities Act is going to be upheld, it’s withstood the test of time, and that this lawsuit is going to be turned away at the door,” he said. Jacob Scholl for Utah Public Radio | Read more or listen now »
Continuing Coverage and Commentary: Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni-Ancestral Footprints National Monument
The monument designation was the culmination of decades of Indigenous efforts across the political system, including protests against uranium mining, get-out-the-vote efforts in Arizona, and, in recent years, work with the Biden administration. When Grand Canyon National Park was established over a century ago, the federal government forcibly removed Native people. The proclamation acknowledges this violent history and outlines steps for co-stewardship and co-management of the monument with tribes, including the creation of a commission with representation from each tribal nation with ancestral ties to the area. This is the third monument initially proposed by Indigenous-led coalitions; the others are Bears Ears and Avi Kwa Ame. The monument also protects thousands of cultural sites, endangered and endemic plants and wildlife, and seeps and springs that flow into the Colorado River—the water source for 40 million people. Brooke Larsen and Alastair Lee Bitsóí in High Country News | Read more »
Had the early entrepreneurs been successful, the Grand Canyon today would be defiled with hydroelectric dams, power lines, scores of working platinum and uranium mines and the sprawl of luxury resorts. Without national park protection, “there would be mansions of the rich lining the Grand Canyon,” documentarian Ken Burns said. But the presidents said no. Arizona Republic Editorial Board | Read more »
Notice of Dispute Filed in Collaborative Opposition to Power Line
On August 4, 2023, Archaeology Southwest, the Tohono O’odham Nation, and the San Carlos Apache Tribe advised the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM), via a jointly submitted Notice of Dispute, of its failures to complete the historic property identification and Tribal Consultation processes required to move forward with the SunZia Southwest Transmission Project. … Unless and until the BLM and the SunZia sponsor decide to follow the National Historic Preservation Act and other rules requiring meaningful consultations with Native American Tribes and Nations, we are obliged by our consciences and by Archaeology Southwest’s mission and Model for Tribal Collaboration to use all lawful means to defend the San Pedro valley and its unique, diverse, and extraordinary values. Archaeology Southwest | Read more »
A Horrifying Legacy at the Smithsonian—the ‘Racial Brain Collection’
Content warning: This important and necessary multimedia piece is disturbing. Although it contains no imagery of human remains, it does include images of once-living people whose remains were collected without knowledge or consent, images of burial and reburial grounds, and images of historical documents with racist and dehumanizing statements.
Ales Hrdlicka, the 64-year-old curator of the division of physical anthropology at the Smithsonian’s U.S. National Museum, was interested in Sara’s brain for his collection. But only if she was “full-blood,” he noted, using a racist term to question whether her parents were both Sami [indigenous to areas that include northern Scandinavia]. … Nearly 100 years later, Sara’s brain is still housed by the institution, wrapped in muslin and immersed in preservatives in a large metal container. It is stored in a museum facility in Maryland with 254 other brains, amassed mostly in the first half of the 20th century. … Most of the brains were removed upon death from Black and Indigenous people and other people of color. Nicole Dungca and Claire Healy for the Washington Post | Learn more »
Deepen Your Understanding with Audiobook of Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits
Read by the author, Chip Colwell of SAPIENS. Who owns the past and the objects that physically connect us to history? And who has the right to decide this ownership, particularly when the objects are sacred or, in the case of skeletal remains, human? Is it the museums that care for the objects or the communities whose ancestors made them? These questions are at the heart of Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits: Inside the Fight to Reclaim Native America’s Culture. Audiobooks.com | Learn more »
The audiobook is currently being offered at a 70% discount in order to help broaden awareness of these injustices and some possibilities for restorative justice. Full disclosure: Colwell is a member of Archaeology Southwest’s Board of Directors.
Commentary: Pueblo Revolt Day and Cultural Erasure
In 1680, our ancestors rose in unity against oppressive forces, kindling a spirit of strength and resilience that would carry across generations. The Pueblo Revolt was a powerful rebuke of forces that sought to erase our identity, languages, culture, especially those practices considered sacred, profound and ancient. It marked a pivotal moment in our relentless struggle for cultural sovereignty. Today, we find ourselves on the brink of yet another threat, not physical but equally significant—cultural erasure through congressional legislative actions. We are challenged by the proposed passage of House Resolution 4374, the “Energy Opportunities for All Act” introduced by Arizona House Republicans Eli Crane and Paul Gosar. Randall Vicente (Governor, Pueblo of Acoma) in the Santa Fe New Mexican | Read more »
Pueblo Potters Become the Curators
In her own work, [Acoma potter Claudia] Mitchell, 59, incorporates [sherds] of pottery from previous generations that she finds along the road, grinding them into a powder to give her pots extra strength before firing. Through her vessels, “the spirit of all those people is brought back to life,” she said. “Our past and present become the future in the pottery.” Now she is helping to broaden the understanding of American art. In a radical sea change for museums, Mitchell is one of 68 Pueblo potters, artists and cultural leaders invited to largely organize “Grounded in Clay: The Spirit of Pueblo Pottery” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the first Native American exhibition there that has been community curated. Patricia Leigh Brown in the New York Times | Read more »
Pots and People
Archaeologists long abandoned the simple notion that “pots are people”—that people’s identities directly correspond with the pottery they made and used. What, then, can ceramics reveal about past lives? Joss Whittaker in SAPIENS | Read more »
MSU’s On-Campus Archaeology Program Will Excavate 1881 Observatory Site
Students working with Michigan State’s Campus Archaeology Program this summer unearthed part of the cobblestone foundation of a 142-year-old observatory in a clearing near a student residence hall, the university announced this month. The site of the building—Michigan State’s first observatory for astronomy, dating back to 1881—will become a dig site next summer for the university’s undergraduates and local residents to practice archaeological techniques right on campus. The unlikely discovery happened this summer when construction workers attempted to install hammock poles near a student residence hall on the north end of campus, said Stacey Camp, director of the Campus Archaeology Program. They contacted the program after hitting a hard surface while trying to drive the poles into the ground. Researchers consulted school records and noticed that the unassuming site—a lawn shaded by leafy trees near picnic benches and a basketball court—was near the location of a century-old facility built during a key period of change for the university. Daniel Wu for the Washington Post | Read more »
Position Announcement: Executive Director (Grand Staircase-Escalante area UT)
Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) is actively seeking a leader to serve as its Executive Director; the key management leader of the organization. This person will be responsible for overseeing the administration, programs, and implementation of the strategic plan for GSEP. Other key duties include fundraising, communications, and community outreach. This position has the option of working remotely. Grand Staircase Escalante Partners | Learn more »
Position Announcements: Assistant Professors of Archaeology (Las Cruces NM)
The Department of Anthropology at New Mexico State University seeks a tenure track Assistant Professor of Archaeology with a regional specialization in the American Southwest and/or Northern Mexico who complements the department’s research and practice. Preference will be given to expertise in one or more of the following areas: spatial analysis, remote sensing, zooarchaeology, and/or paleoethnobotanical analysis, and heritage management. Teaching and research philosophies that are collaborative, develop synergies between research and education, and engage local, regional, and descendant communities are strongly preferred. New Mexico State University | Learn more »
The Department of Anthropology at New Mexico State University seeks a tenure track Assistant Professor of Archaeology with a regional specialization in Mexico, Central America, and/or South America who complements the department’s research and practice. Preference will be given to expertise in one or more of the following areas: spatial analysis, remote sensing, zooarchaeology, paleoethnobotanical analysis, and heritage management. Teaching and research philosophies that are collaborative, develop synergies between research and education, and engage local, regional, and descendant communities are strongly preferred. New Mexico State University | Learn more »
Sept.–Oct. Docent Training, Tucson AZ
The lifeblood of the Presidio Museum and the soon-to-be-opened Fort Lowell Museum are volunteers and docents who provide most of the programming and tours at the museums. In an effort to attract new docents for both locations, the Presidio Museum is holding a Docent training course this fall. This extensive course will cover a variety of topics, including: the early people of the Tucson Basin; the history, geography and people of the Spanish Presidio and Fort Lowell; the Mexican Republic; and more! Presidio San Agustín del Tucson and Fort Lowell Museums | Learn more »
August Subscription Lectures (Santa Fe NM)
8/21, Mateo Romero (Cochiti Pueblo), Who Are We and Why Does It Matter? Or “When Are Indians Going to Be the ‘Good Guys’ in the Movies?”; 8/28, Carleton Bowekaty (Zuni), Bears Ears: In the Sacred Land between. Southwest Seminars | Learn more »
REMINDER: Aug. 17 Online Event: The 1541 O’odham Annihilation of Vázquez de Coronado’s Southern Arizona Townsite
With Deni Seymour. She will discuss southern Arizona Coronado expedition sites she has identified recently and excavations at the first permanent European settlement in the Southwest that was eliminated by O’odham. Third Thursday Food for Thought series (Old Pueblo Archaeology Center) | Learn more and register (free) »
REMINDER: Aug. 17 Online Event: Gardens in the Sand: Historic Early Landscapes in the Southwest
With Baker Morrow. Ancient Pueblo cultivation practices focused on the development of a network of small “pocket” gardens around a Pueblo settlement, laid out on hillsides, valley floors, and the crests of hills. Many of these constructs were set in pinyon-juniper woodlands, taking advantage of sparse but carefully used rain and snowfall, which was channeled to insure the success of the garden system. The dryness of the Southwest has preserved many of these ancient landscape features. We can still study them today, perhaps learning in the process a very good way to live and thrive in one of North America’s most demanding environments. Crow Canyon Archaeological Center | Learn more and register (free) »
REMINDER: Aug. 19 In-Person Event: Celebration of All Things S-cuk Sǫn/Tucson
Event attendees will celebrate the variety of cultures that make our region special including: Mariachi Los Diablitos de Sunnyside High School; Desert Sky Winds Waila Band; Tucson Chinese Cultural Center Chinese Lion Dances; and Tucson Presidio Garrison Soldier Drills. Visitors will also have the opportunity to interact with a variety of community partners. 6:15–10:00 p.m. at the Presidio Museum. Tucson-Pima County Historical Commission and the Presidio Museum | Learn more »
Aug. 24 Online Event: Duck Pots in Brooklyn
With Kelley Hays-Gilpin and Dennis Gilpin. Ravenous collectors stripped antiquities from Ancestral Puebloan communities at the turn of the 20th century. They shipped boxcar loads of artifacts to museums in the eastern United States and overseas. Generations of archaeologists wrote off these “legacy collections” as devoid of interest, but today, we are rediscovering their value. The Brooklyn Museum of Art’s collection of pottery from the “Chacoan outlier” community of Hunters Point, located near Window Rock, Arizona, is largely untouched for over a century and comprises over 140 whole vessels. The collection contains a surprising variety of vessel forms, including bird-shaped pitchers and represents a wide range of potters’ skills, from beginners to master potters. We reunite scattered archival information about the Hunters Point Great House community with our study of the ceramic data to reconstruct the community’s timeline, network relationships, and distinctive features, and offer insights into the western frontier of the Chaco world. Crow Canyon Archaeological Center | Learn more and register (free) »
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