Natives dismayed

Tribes, groups not given access to Zinke during Bears Ears visit

Navajo Times | Krista Allen
Tatyana Rose Wilson, 18, from Monument Valley holds up a sign in support of Bears Ears National Monument during Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s visit to Utah last week. A Bears Ears rally took place at the junction of U.S. Route 191 and Needles Overlook, 14 miles north of Monticello.


Pro-monument advocates last week at a Bears Ears rally during the Interior secretary’s visit say their voices were not heard.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recently visited Utah on a four-day listening tour organized by Gov. Gary Herbert’s office. Zinke is reconsidering the merits of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.

Zinke has until June 10 to make a recommendation on Bears Ears to President Donald Trump, whose options include doing away with the monument designation, shrinking the conservation area’s borders, or leave it as is.

Trump signed an executive order in April instructing Zinke to review 27 national monuments, which includes Arizona’s Grand Canyon-Parashant, Ironwood Forest, Sonoran Desert, and Vermilion Cliffs nestled between Lake Powell and the North Rim.

Describing the designations as a “massive federal land grab,” Trump on that occasion said, “It’s time to end these abuses and return control to the people, the people of Utah, the people of all of the states, the people of the United States.”

Navajo Times | Krista Allen
Willie Greyeyes from Naatsis’áán leads a chant during a Bears Ears rally last week at the junction of U.S. Route 191 and Needles Overlook, 14 miles north of Monticello, Utah. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke visited Bears Ears National Monument on a four-day tour to the area.

Zinke at the end of his tour said Utahns had been granted a voice in the future of their public lands. However his visit did not include a balanced view, according to Albert Holiday, vice president of Oljato-Monument Valley Chapter and a Utah Diné Bikéyah board member.

“He should have talked to the grassroots, the people who live out here, the Navajos,” Holiday said. “All he did was hang around with the (San Juan County) commissioners and other Utah politicians.”

San Juan County Commissioner Rebecca Benally, who spent some time with Zinke, did not return a request for an interview.

In Salt Lake City on Sunday, Zinke met with the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, which is formed of leaders of five tribes, including the Navajo Nation. Zinke that day also declined a formal meeting request by Utah Diné Bikéyah, according to Gavin Noyes, executive director for the nonprofit organization.

On Monday, Zinke, along with his entourage that included anti-monument politicians, flew over Bears Ears National Monument (Shash Jaa’ in Diné bizaad) aboard three Black Hawk helicopters. He later hiked to Butler Wash southwest of Blanding to look at Native American ruins.

On Tuesday, Zinke visited Dugout Ranch, a 5,200-acre cattle farm – managed by The Nature Conservancy – northwest of Monticello, now inside the 1.35-million Bears Ears.

Zinke said on that day in the context of the monument, “cattle ranchers matter too.” He completed the day with a trip to the Bears Ears grazing allotment managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

And in southern Utah on Wednesday, Zinke stopped at Grand Staircase-Escalante, ending his four-day tour.

“He needs to communicate with the grassroots who use this land,” Holiday said about Zinke, a former Montana congressman. “Those commissioners and the politicians, they don’t know the land. They’ve never been out here. They’ve never put a footprint on this (Bears Ears) land. (Zinke) overlooked the Natives.”

Noyes says he is very disappointed at the result of Zinke’s visit.

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Categories: News
Tags: Bears Ears

About Author

Krista Allen

Krista Allen is the Western Agency Bureau reporter for the Navajo Times. She covers the western half of the Navajo Nation, including Page, Tuba City, Kaibeto, Cameron, Tonalea and Shonto. She can be reached at