Home » News

Supporters of Bears Ears, Grand Staircase rally in advance of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s visit

First Published      Last Updated Jun 09 2017 07:23 am

Rally » Crowd wants Interior chief to hear more than voices of state’s politicians.

After his birth in Utah's Monument Valley, James Adakai's umbilical cord was buried at Bears Ears.

The Navajo Nation's commissioner for Bears Ears now worries such a sacred spot will be lost unless Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke agrees to meet with the state's tribal authorities during his four-day visit to Utah — a face-to-face conversation the secretary has so far declined.

Zinke needs to "listen to everyone," Adakai told a crowd of more than 1,000 supporters of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments gathered on the Capitol's steps Saturday afternoon.

Zinke intends to be in the Beehive State from Sunday to Wednesday as part of President Donald Trump's plan to review 27 large monuments designated since 1996.

The review could lead Trump to shrink the size of some monuments or possibly attempt to rescind one, which has never happened. Zinke has until June 10 to report back on the 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears monument, the last one created by President Barack Obama just weeks before his term ended. The secretary has a few more months to make recommendations on the others, including Grand Staircase. Zinke's fact-finding trip will be highly watched and highly political, with a much smaller anti-monument rally held in Blanding on Saturday.

Many in the larger Capitol crowd — including a contingent of American Indians — held signs that read "Save our monuments — antiquities in stone and bone," "Don't Trump Utah," "Don't give our public lands to greedy local politicians," "Rural Born Utahn for Bears Ears" and "Honor Tribal Sovereignty."

As they filled the Capitol's steps and spilled down the lawns, Gavin Noyes, executive director of Utah Dine Bikeyah, told The Salt Lake Tribune he hoped Zinke would "walk the land with traditional tribal elders whose past and future is tied to Bears Ears." His group, which is led by Native Americans, sought the creation of the controversial monument over the objection of Utah's members of Congress and most state leaders.

Noyes opened the 1 p.m. rally under a blazing sun with a call for the Cabinet official to listen to more than just Utah's top politicians.

"Don't touch our monuments," he said. "Listen to the people, not the delegation."

The Dine Bikeyah director urged attendees to plant pro-monument signs in their yards so that when the Interior secretary arrives Sunday for meetings in Salt Lake City, he will be visually bombarded. Noyes further instructed supporters to pack Zinke's news conference scheduled for 4 p.m. Sunday to make their wishes known.

Evangeline Gray, a Navajo medicine woman, offered a prayer to the Creator Spirit, calling on the divine to "get people to hear our voices ... that the land is precious to us ... and to touch [the delegation's] heart."

Virgil Johnson, chairman of the Utah Tribal Leaders Association, said: "We are stewards of this land ... protective of our land and beliefs."

Noting tribal sovereignty, Johnson said he asked for a meeting with Zinke while the Cabinet member was in Utah but was declined.

"We are not being heard," he said. "Our rights are being swept aside. ... It needs to stop."

That was followed by wild applause.

During Utah's legislative session earlier this year, state representatives passed resolutions asking the president either to reduce the size of Grand Staircase and Bears Ears or eliminate Bears Ears altogether.

"I represent a conservative district," state Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, said "but I didn't hear from one person asking me to vote for these bills."

These lands are not just valuable to Utahns, but "all over the nation and world," Arent told the crowd. "We cannot afford to auction them off to the highest bidder."

» Next page... Single page