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Opinion: William Perry Pendley is unfit to manage my Indigenous homelands

President Trump recently nominated William Perry Pendley, the current acting director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), to become the permanent director.

The BLM director is in charge of 250 million acres of America’s public land, including land sacred to my people, the Dine’. To qualify for this enormous responsibility, Pendley should support stewardship of these public lands and possess some basic cultural competencies. But he hasn’t done this, and he never will. 

On the contrary, Pendley’s racist statements, extremist ideology and career representing polluting industries like oil, gas and mining make him unfit to manage my Indigenous homelands. I vehemently oppose his nomination and urge Sen. Cory Gardner, as a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, to vote ‘no’ on his confirmation. 

Shaina Oliver

The Dine’ were exemplary stewards of western lands long before they became America’s public lands. My Dine’ ancestors practiced a sustainable system of agriculture and fostered a culture that honored and protected wildlife, clean air and water. They preserved the land so that their children and mine could all experience the beauty of mother Earth and live a healthy life.

But centuries of colonization and displacement amounted to the genocide of Indigenous people. This opened the door to extraction and exploitation. As a result, the lands on which we built a culture of humility, harmony and protection for the next seven generations have been drilled, mined, polluted and discarded.

My own grandfather, forced to earn an income in whatever way possible, mined uranium without protective gear and died too early because of it.

From the start of his career, Pendley has egged on those very extractive industries that have exploited Indigenous people and degraded our lands.  Serving in the Reagan administration, he advocated for the “highest possible level of [coal] leasing,” in the Powder River Basin.

More recently, he acted as lead counsel to push drilling in Badger-Two Medicine, an area sacred to the Blackfeet Nation. 

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Pendley has also shown profound disregard for Bears Ears National Monument, another area of importance to Indigenous people. Bears Ears earned National Monument protection in 2016 thanks to the work of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition.

The sovereign governments of the Hopi, Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute, Uintah and Ouray Ute, and Navajo nations planned to co-manage these sacred lands and ensure greater protections from mining, oil and gas drilling and irresponsible recreation.

But Pendley had his own views about national monuments. In 2017, Pendley criticized then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who was about to oversee a massive reduction of national monuments, for not reducing monuments enough.

And now he determines the fate of sacred cultural and archaeological sites that are a part of Indigenous history and life. Under Pendley’s leadership, 85,000 acres of public lands at the doorstep of Bears Ears and other national parks could be leased for oil and gas development this fall.

Pendley’s racist agenda isn’t only visible in his attacks on our lands. Pendley has mocked Indigenous spirituality and calls Indigenous people an “issue” because they advocate for land protections. He uses finger quotes around the word “holy” when referring to our sacred lands. 

As head of the BLM, Pendley is required to consult with tribes in order to identify the cultural values, the religious beliefs, the traditional practices and the legal rights of Native Americans.

All of these could be affected by BLM actions on public lands. His blatant disrespect for Indigenous culture shows me exactly how he will approach such consultation.

As if his views on Indigenous culture and spirituality weren’t enough to disqualify him from leading the BLM, Pendley also denies the reality of climate change

Indigenous people are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Whether through heat waves, wildfires or drought, we are seeing the real-time effects of this crisis across the West. Denying this reality is equivalent to wilfully neglecting the wellbeing of Indigenous people. 

Pendley’s nomination to lead the Bureau of Land Management is an outrage and extreme offense not just to Indigenous people, and not just to mothers, but to every person who breathes air, drinks water and cares about America’s public lands, our Indigenous homelands. These lands help us fight climate change, sustain our spirits, honor our ancestors and protect vital wildlife habitat. 

It is our duty to future generations to fight back against those who undervalue our culture and our land. William Perry Pendley should not lead the Bureau of Land Management, and I vehemently oppose his nomination. If Sen. Gardner cares at all about a livable planet and a just society, he needs to take a stand against Pendley as well. 


Shaina Oliver is a tribal member of the Navajo Nation (Dine’) from Shiprock, New Mexico. She is a mother and a Colorado field organizer for Moms Clean Air Force. She lives in northeast Denver, just south of the Suncor refinery.


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