The Bears Ears sham battle continues.
The Trump Interior Department announced last week the members of a 15-person advisory committee to manage what’s left of Bears Ears National Monument, and — no surprise — the committee has no one who actually encouraged a Bears Ears National Monument.
Interior, with its newly installed former oil and gas lobbyist as secretary, stacked the 15-member Bears Ears Advisory Committee with those who fought President Obama’s original designation of the monument, and it virtually ignored the fact that Bears Ears was an American Indian idea.
Utah’s elected leaders apparently are just fine with that. For all the public promises from Rep. John Curtis about bringing together the diverse interests of his constituents in San Juan County, he has been silent on this obviously stacked deck.
And Gov. Gary Herbert’s office says the governor only requested for one person for the panel — his federal affairs director — and he got his wish. The governor, whose instincts on the future economics of public lands have been consistently wrong, missed another chance to build a more inclusive coalition to manage the Bears Ears’ true path as a growing tourist destination.
Left to their own devices, Interior plucked from San Juan County the only white county commissioner, leaving the two Navajo commissioners out. It also chose white ranchers, a white county administrator and a white political activist. The person chosen to represent conservation interests is a white hunting lobbyist from northern Utah.
The Interior Department had earlier decided that only two of the 15 members would represent Native American tribal interests. Then it chose both of those representatives from just one of the seven Navajo chapters in Utah. That chapter, Aneth, was also the only Navajo chapter to ever oppose the monument.
Bears Ears National Monument was born out of a rare alliance of five sovereign American Indian nations — Navajo, Zuni, Hopi, Ute and Ute Mountain Ute. Its very existence comes from the tribes’ desire to recognize a common ancestral homeland.
The head of the Utah Tribal Leaders Council, representing all of Utah’s tribes, offered the Interior Department several names of prominent and qualified American Indians from Utah.
Instead, we get the continuing push by Republicans to divide the tribes. It is sickening.
Even more galling is that the very basis for Herbert and Curtis opposing President Obama’s creation of the Bears Ears Monument in 2016 was the insistence that locals didn’t want it.
Since then the San Juan County Commission was replaced by a majority American Indian commission in the last election, reflecting the majority of San Juan’s citizens. That commission is now officially on the record as supporting a complete Bears Ears monument, not the dismantled version.
This was not a change of heart for San Juan County’s citizenry. It was the court-ordered end of race-based gerrymandering that brought it about. A majority of San Juan residents always wanted the monument. It was just an illegitimately seated county commission that opposed it. But neither Herbert nor Curtis have said one word to publicly acknowledge they were wrong.
The Trump administration has never supported ethnic diversity in any context. Utah’s leaders are quick to claim they’re better than that, but their silence once again is complicity.
They have muffed a grand opportunity to guide San Juan’s economic future while addressing more than a century of marginalizing the oldest cultures in southeastern Utah.
Instead, they’re still playing cowboys.