Commentary
By Chuck Tooley 6-21-2017

Connecting with the land can broaden our view of the world and expand our hearts for each other and for God. As such, the recent order by President Donald Trump that calls for a review of national monuments established under the Antiquities Act could disconnect us from each other and the land itself.

The Antiquities Act authorizes presidents to proclaim “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest” as national monuments. Our responsibility to care for creation merges with our duty to preserve and honor the story of all Americans. Our children need to have access to healthy recreation and the opportunity to find their own story in our park system. Since it became law in 1906, the Antiquities Act has been used by 16 presidents — eight Republicans and eight Democrats — starting with Theodore Roosevelt.

Many of our national monuments are culturally significant — the Pullman in Chicago, Cesar Chavez in California, and Freedom Riders in Alabama. The recent order by the Trump administration to review these treasured lands puts our national, cultural, and ecological heritage at risk.

This storytelling value holds true for the 117 national monuments across the nation. Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty tell the story of our immigrant heritage: African Burial Ground and Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad recount the history of African Americans, and Bears Ears National Monument in Utah and Canyon of the Ancients in Colorado proclaim the story and culture of Native American tribes.

The millions of acres of public lands in Montana reinforce the spirit of our people. When I fill my lungs in the wide open spaces or in the mountains or forests or on the bank of a rushing stream, it connects me to all creation. The mystical, sacred connection we have with our treasured state informs our character as a people.

We are called to be in loving relationship with our human neighbors and with God’s creation. The sites preserved by the Antiquities Act help us not only care for creation but also to care for each other by lifting up the stories embodied in the land. History books contain words; national monuments encourage experiences that can bring words to life.

From historic sites that remind us of our legacy, to national parks that play host to weekend recreation, memorable family reunions, and inspiring vacations, our nation’s public lands are beloved embodiments of God’s power and love.

Now the Trump administration is taking the unprecedented step of going backward and surveying the appropriateness of these special places. They are reviewing lands that have already been placed in public trust and tell unique cultural stories. Our national monuments are special places in creation and need protection. This is the only way future generations can continue to learn from and be inspired by their stories.

The Trump administration must abandon this unjustified threat to our national monuments and instead support the sacred relationship that Americans have with their heritage. We must keep national monuments intact and oppose any provisions that would undermine or give away America’s public lands.

Chuck Tooley retired undefeated as the longest-serving Mayor of Billings, the largest city in Montana, and was later appointed a Human Rights Commissioner for the State of Montana. Chuck is a businessman and a leader in the Disciples of Christ, having served on the boards of Global Ministries, the United Christian Missionary Society, and Disciples Home Missions.

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