Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke visited the Bears Ears National Monument yesterday (May 8) in Utah to review its use under the Antiquities Act, which gives the president unilateral power to declare lands as historic. President Donald Trump signed an executive order April 26 directing Secretary Zinke to consult communities across the country about national monuments that take up more than 100,000 acres as part of this review. Native advocates in Utah say that Zinke set aside just one hour to hear from tribes.
Zinke was met by a group of activists who want to see the 1.35 million-acre monument remain under federal protection from development and desecration. Cassandra Begay, the tribal liaison for Peaceful Advocates for Native Dialogue and Organizing Support, approached Zinke as he exited his vehicle and asked him repeatedly why he hasn’t met with the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition. He initially ignored her, then responded by pointing at her and telling her to “be nice, don’t be rude.” Video of the incident is posted above.
In an accompanying Facebook post, Begay says that “her heart was racing” when he approached her because she worried he would hit her. She goes on:
Very condescending, demeaning and belittling demeanor to say the least. I’m in shock about how rude he was. It felt like he was about to snap! Certainly not what I expected from the Interior Secretary who is here on a listening tour.
I’m here in Bears Ears on the scene frontlines and from what I can see , this whole visit and review is one sided. His entire visit is being orchestrated by Utah representatives, and no time has been given to local tribal leaders who represent 40-60 percent of the local native community in San Juan County.
In an emailed press release, Begay alleged that Utah representatives insist that no tribes exist in San Juan County, where the national monument sits. But she says there are three tribes live in the county: the Diné (known as the Navajo Nation), the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and the San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe.
Bears Ears has seen much controversy as many people—including some Native people—want to open the land for recreation and resource extraction. Activists argue that Bears Ears’ historical and cultural significance should preclude it from those activities. The land features signature cliff dwellings of the Native Pueblo people, as well as pictographs and petroglyphs the indigenous group used to tell stories some 5,000 years ago.
USA Today reports that Zinke called on communities to share their comments and thoughts on different national monuments online.
Watch an extended version of the above video here.