President-elect Donald Trump made many campaign promises to undo President Obama's social reforms, such as threatening to repeal the Patients Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). Trump also promised to undo much of Obama's environmental policy; threatening to get the US out of the Paris Climate Accords. Meanwhile, Obama's popularity languishes among disillusioned constituents angry he did not use his executive authority to make greater domestic environmental and social reforms.

Obama is using his last days in office to make some of these reforms. Unsurprisingly, Trump and his constituents are already promising to do undo them.

The 1906 Antiquities Act

The Washington Post reports President Obama recently exercised his executive authority to create the Bears Ears National Monument. Using powers granted by the 1906 Antiquities Act, the President was able to designate protected federal lands without the need for a majority vote in Congress.

While environmentalists praise the decision, conservatives warn that Obama's alleged “federal land grab” may anger rural conservative constituents in the states of Utah and Nevada where the monuments are located. Republicans in Congress point to the armed standoff between right-wing militants under Cliven Bundy as an example of the type of reaction the monument's creation might provoke. Moreover, supporters of the monument are legitimately concerned that Trump may overturn Obama's decision.

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Trump's alleged right to abolish

Legal experts opine that it is unclear whether incoming President-elect Donald Trump can abolish Obama's designation of the monument. Some say that precedent suggests he may have the authority to reduce the territory under designation. The National Park Service and various environmental groups fear Trump and the Republican majority Congress will seek to repeal the Antiquities Act to prevent future executive federal land designations.

Obama's last-ditch effort to create the monument is not only popular among environmentalists, but among Native Americans for whom the land is considered sacred.

The Native American position

In an October 6th editorial for Indian Country Today Kim Baca outlined the Native American position on the need for federal protection of Bears Ears Monument. While congressional Republicans and their conservative constituents critique the bill as a “federal land grab” presumably disadvantageous to the citizens of the state of Utah, Baca's analysis indicates this is really about private interests desiring to profit from natural resource development in sacred Native American lands.

The Navajo, the Uintah and Ouray Ute, Ute Mountain, Southern Ute, and Zuni Pueblo are among the indigenous nations who called Obama to protect Bears Ears.

The battle continues

Obama's designation includes significant consultation and joint management of the lands by each of the affected indigenous nations to whom the land is sacred. Some are calling it an unprecedented collaboration by the US and indigenous nations.

Obama's indigenous critics suggest Bears Ears may be an effort to deflect criticism from Obama's failure to timely address the Dakota Access pipeline crisis and create a similar monument for Standing Rock. Obama did deny the permit, but Sioux nation citizens remain vigilant fearing Trump will try to force the pipeline through their treaty territory. Indigenous peoples nationally remain vigilant in protecting Obama's limited reforms from Trump's incoming anti-indigenous administration.

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