Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is touring Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah as part of the Trump’s administration review, which purports to shrink and eliminate nearly 30 national monuments.
The Bears Ears monument was created from the extensive efforts of an unprecedented coalition of Native American tribes — Navajo, Ute, Zuni, Hopi and Ute Mountain Ute — and is considered sacred by them. Moreover, President Obama’s proclamation expressly guarantees access for tribal members for traditional cultural use, including gathering medicinal herbs, firewood and other forest products.
However, much of the GOP congressional delegation from Utah believes the monument creation will hurt local economies by shutting down the area to new energy development. They also argue it is not the best way to conserve the land.
In fact, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch believes the Native American tribes cannot be trusted to think for themselves and only he knows what is best for their cultural heritage.
Speaking at a joint press conference with Secretary Zinke, Hatch was asked about the tribal support for Bears Ears National Monument. The Utah’s senator absurd answered was that somehow the tribes were stupid enough to get tricked.
“The Indians, they don’t fully understand that a lot of the things that they currently take for granted on those lands, they won’t be able to do if it’s made clearly into a monument or a wilderness,” Hatch said on Sunday. “Once you put a monument there, you do restrict a lot of things that could be done, and that includes use of the land… Just take my word for it.”
In just a single statement, Hatch reduced the intelligence of tribal governments to nothing and invoked echoes of the long history of Native Americans disenfranchisement in the Beehive state. Utah only granted Native Americans the right to vote after a lawsuit in 1957.
San Juan County, where the hotly contested monument is located, has a remarkably shocking history of discrimination. In 1974, Native American students filed a lawsuit against the county for its historical trend of discrimination after which the county agreed to implement bilingual education programs, which they had failed to do so for almost 20 years.
In 1983, the justice department sued the county for violating the Voting Rights Act which results in new country commission districts and election of its first Native American commissioner.
In 2016, the county was once again ordered to redraw their county commission districts to more accurately represent the Native American community and it was, once again, sued for Voting Rights Acts violations.
What’s more, Hatch’s assertion that monument “restricts a lot of things” is not quite true. As stated above, it is explicitly written in Obama’s proclamation that traditional tribal usage of the land will be allowed ad reads, “[the Interior Department will] ensure the protection of Indian sacred sites and traditional cultural properties in the monument and provide access by members of Indian tribes for traditional cultural and customary uses… including collection of medicines, berries and other vegetation, forest products, and firewood for personal noncommercial.”
“It is offensive that some people think that Native Americans do not have a will of their own,” said Willie Grayeyes, chairman of the board of Utah Diné Bikéyah, in a statement. “Native American people understand the special and sacred landscapes at Bears Ears National Monument better than anyone. We have stewarded these landscapes for thousands of years and we are very pleased with the language used in the proclamation that protects the things we care about and gives us a voice in our future. It is no surprise that Sen. Hatch does not understand what he is working so hard to take away from us.”
“The Indians, they don’t understand…” — Orrin Hatch. If I can be perfectly clear with Orrin Hatch: We understand. https://t.co/tZjZrwDKAB— James Singer (@urbannavajo) May 8, 2017
What Orrin Hatch says about "The Indians" = the status quo that we fight. That kind of BS is in far too many kid/YA bks. https://t.co/I1GnE05FdP— Debbie Reese (@debreese) May 8, 2017