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[Congressional Record Volume 163, Number 198 (Tuesday, December 5, 2017)]
[Pages S7826-S7827]
From the Congressional Record Online through GPO


Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, it was 20 years ago when I was first elected to the Senate. I was asked to consider a bill called the Red Rocks Wilderness Act. I didn't know anything about it. It was a bill that had been offered by Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey. He was retiring. I was asked to consider sponsoring this wilderness proposal in the State of Utah. Of course, I said, I am from Illinois, not Utah, and I have never seen this. Well, they asked me to come out and take a look, and I did.

My wife and I went out to take a look at what was known as the Red Rocks Wilderness Area. It is in the southeastern corner of Utah. I had never been there, nor had I ever heard of it before I visited. What an eye-opener, to go there and see this magnificent vista, this incredible landscape that was being proposed for wilderness protection and status.

So over the years, I have reintroduced the bill, the conversation continued, and it wasn't until President Obama took a major share of this area, which is in San Juan County in the southeastern corner of Utah, and designated it in the name of the Bears Ears Monument that we finally achieved protection for this beautiful piece of real estate.

I have been there. It is breathtaking. There are incredible cultural sites there by Native Americans, and it is a great place to visit, to hike, and to enjoy a special piece of America. It is filled with magnificent red rock formations, deep, carved canyons, long mesas, and rock arches. Some of the photos just don't do it justice. We can take a look at some of these, and we can get an idea of the vastness of the area that is affected here.

Then you might take a look at some of the others and realize it includes a lot of cultural and prehistoric settings that were utilized by the Native American people when they called these caves their homes. It has special meaning to the Native American Tribes that are there. Many of them trace their origins to the very people who dwelled in these caves and the structures they built with the loose rocks that we can still see today.

We look at it and think, Well, if you didn't use this, if you didn't preserve it, if you didn't protect it, what would you do with it?

I have spoken with some of the Senators from Utah, and they have readily conceded there is no oil or gas there to be drilled. There may be some uranium processing but very little. I asked them: Why wouldn't you want this area protected? It doesn't have economic value other than the fact that people will come, tourists will come to Utah to see this beautiful place.

I was troubled when President Trump announced he was going to follow Secretary Zinke's recommendation and shrink the proposed Bears Ears Monument as well as another nearby called the Grand Staircase- Escalante. They would reduce the size of the Bears Ears Monument by 85 percent and Grand Staircase-Escalante by 50 percent.

In April, President Trump issued an Executive order requiring the Department of the Interior to preview and review the previous national monument designations of President Obama. Although Bears Ears and Grand Staircase are the first two targets to be hit by President Trump, this attack on what is known as the Antiquities Act and our national monuments goes far beyond these two sites.

As part of the review, the President and Secretary of the Interior Zinke considered changing every national monument that had been created since 1996, which is more than 50 nationwide. These are areas that have been protected by Presidents of both political parties. It goes back, in fact, to a Republican President, Teddy Roosevelt, who realized it was worth fighting off some of the parochial and economic interests to preserve pieces of America for future generations.

The list that was subject to the Trump order spans the country. It includes the Cascade-Siskiyou in Oregon, Gold Butte in Nevada, Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine, Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande in New Mexico, and several marine monuments.

The administration's decisions to shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante goes against continued support for these sites. The Bears Ears Monument was the first monument to be proposed and advocated by the five sovereign Tribal nations: The Hopi, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute, Pueblo of Zuni, and Ute Indians.

The Tribes sought protection because of the important place Bears Ears has in their cultures. The artifacts within Bears Ears range from 700 to 12,000 years old, providing Tribes with an incredible insight into the sacred history of their ancestral homeland and bolstering their deep spiritual connection to the landscape itself. In total, 30 Native-American Tribes with ancestral, historical, and contemporary ties to the Bears Ears region supported the designation--30.

I might recall, for those who are not students of history--and I am learning--treatment of Native Americans in this region has again raised some serious questions about America's past. It wasn't until 1920 that Native Americans were recognized as citizens of the United States in many of these areas. It wasn't until 1957 that Native Americans were given the right to vote in the State of Utah even though Native Americans had served our country in World War II, such as the Code Talkers, who were honored by President Trump last week. It wasn't until the 1970s that the State of Utah built its first public school on a Tribal area reservation--and only did that after being ordered by the Federal court. The history of our relationship with these Native- American Tribes is one that raises questions about our respect for what they meant to the earliest founding of America and what they mean to us today.

Mr. President, I see the majority leader has taken the floor. I know that under the rules he has priority when it [[Page S7827]] comes to speaking. I wish to finish my remarks, but if I can have the permission of the Chair by unanimous consent and allow the majority leader to speak and then resume my statement after he is finished.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. McCONNELL. I thank my friend from Illinois. ____________________

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