National monument law still used to protect natural, cultural sites
Listen, I already know what you’re thinking: Antiques are boring. Anybody who has ever been to an antique store—especially the sort you find in the Northeast—can tell you that they feel like a time capsule from the days of the American Revolution and smell like prehistoric dust. Stay with me, though, because the Antiquities Act is about much more interesting “antiques.”
Passed in 1906, the act authorized the president of the United States to protect landmarks, structures “and other objects of historic or scientific interest” by designating them as national monuments. The act was first invoked by President Teddy Roosevelt to protect places like Mount Olympus and the Grand Canyon (which of course both later became national parks).
In more recent years, however, the Antiquities Act has found a second life as a powerful tool to protect lands that are culturally significant to Indigenous communities and reckon with the nation’s past. President Obama’s designation of Bears Ears National Monument was a tremendous win for Tribal nations, while his designation of monuments like Stonewall and Honouliuli immortalized hard-fought resistance movements and painful moments in U.S. history, respectively.
Today, as the Antiquities Act celebrates its 117th anniversary, there are still countless landmarks across the United States deserving of national monument designation. Here are just a few that deserve presidential consideration:
Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni Grand Canyon, Arizona
“But Nick! I thought you said the Grand Canyon was already designated as a national monument!” YES, I KNOW. JUST KEEP READING.
Though the original monument-turned-national park is protect it does not include all vulnerable land surrounding the canyon. Now, a coalition representing 12 Tribes and Nations is leading a charge to designate over 1 million acres of public lands outside of the national park boundary in the region as the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni Grand Canyon National Monument.
Meaning “where Indigenous peoples roam, our ancestral footprints” (in Havasupai and Hopi languages, respectively) this monument would preserve the region’s tremendous biological diversity—including dozens of endemic species—for generations to come. It would also safeguard local and Tribal communities’ clean drinking water from uranium mining, which has already contaminated some water supplies and destroyed sacred land in the region.
Black Wall Street, Oklahoma
If you’ve seen HBO’s hit series Watchmen, you may already know a little about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. But to others, the incident remains obscure. In the early 20th century, the Greenwood District of Tulsa was a thriving, affluent, predominantly Black community known across the U.S. as “Black Wall Street.” That changed in 1921 when a white supremacist mob led a two day-long massacre that left dozens—possibly hundreds—dead and thousands displaced. Black Wall Street was destroyed.
Today, community members are pushing for President Biden to ensure this stain on U.S. history is not forgotten while honoring the legacy of Black Wall Street with a national monument designation.
Emmett Till, Mississippi and Illinois
In 1955, a 14-year-old boy named Emmett Till was kidnapped by white supremacists while traveling from Chicago to family in Mississippi. He was tortured, murdered and left to be found days later in the Tallahatchie River. His mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, insisted on holding an open casket funeral so the world could see what had been done to him. This helped sparked the American Civil Rights Movement of the late 20th century.
Activists are now pushing President Biden to honor the Tills by designating a national historic park encompassing several key sites in Mississippi and Illinois.
Great Bend of the Gila, Arizona
Located just outside of Phoenix, the Great Bend of the Gila is an inimitable region with immense ecological and cultural value. This fertile area along the Gila River has provided a home for at least 13 Tribes who continue to maintain deep connections with the landscape. The Great Bend shaped much of the Southwest’s history and heritage and serves as a nexus of natural, cultural and geological significance. The area is classic Sonoran Desert landscape and is beloved today by community members of all stripes for its sublime beauty, wildlife and quiet recreational opportunities.
As the Phoenix metropolitan area continues to expand outward, community members concerned about encroaching development are calling on the federal government to permanently protect the landscape with congressional or presidential designation.
Molok Luyuk, California
Just outside of Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument sits a beautiful ridgeline known as Molok Luyuk. Translating to “condor ridge,” the ridge is sacred to the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, which holds ceremonies on its land. The area is a hotspot of plant diversity, critical habitat for raptors and important migratory passage for mammals.
A broad coalition led by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation is calling upon President Biden to expand the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument to include Molok Luyuk, delivering on his administration’s promises to uphold Tribal sovereignty while conserving vital landscapes.
1908 Springfield Race Riot, Illinois
On an August day in 1908, the city of Springfield, Illinois, exploded into violence when a white supremacist mob razed Black homes and businesses to the ground, killing at least six residents. This riot was the catalyzing event that led to the formation of the NAACP the following year.
Community members—with the support of activists across the nation—are urging the federal government to designate a national monument commemorating the events at an archaeological site housing the foundations of five burned homes.