Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke enjoys a horseback ride in the Bears Ears National Monument in Blanding, Utah. Funny they didn’t run the photo of the BlackHawk helicopter he was using.
BLANDING, Utah — Long after the Black Hawk helicopter carrying Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke flew off into the bright Utah sky, James Adakai stood in the airport parking lot with an angry frown frozen on his face.
As chairman of a tribal commission established to oversee the Bears Ears National Monument, Adakai, who is Navajo, felt he deserved a place in a meeting Zinke arranged at the airport to discuss the monument’s fate. Instead, Zinke met and toured the site in helicopters with Utah government officials and others who adamantly oppose the first U.S. monument designated at the request of Native American tribes to preserve artifacts and sacred lands.
“You see how they do us?” Adakai said.
Zinke was on his first trip to southern Utah since President Trump signed an executive order to review Bears Ears and 26 other monuments. Zinke stepped into the center of a land dispute that is as old as the Indian Wars.
The fight over Bears Ears is not the usual row between politicians who want to mine and drill the land and conservationists who want to preserve and ogle its natural splendor.
It also pits natives who reside on reservations across three states against many Anglos — as some Navajo and Hopi people call white residents — who live in San Juan County. In its largest city, Blanding, banners streaming “#RescindBearsEars” and homemade signs attached to fences that said “No Monument” told Zinke where folks stood.
Supporters such as the Utah Dine Bikeyah shouted their counterpoint — “Protect Bears Ears!” — everywhere Zinke appeared in public, as he tried to keep a poker face. “I’m in listening mode,” he said, trying to hear every side.
Zinke is expected to submit a recommendation to Trump in early June, following a public comment period that started Friday. But conservationists wondered whether the Trump administration had already betrayed its intent.
As he signed his executive order two weeks ago in Zinke’s office at Interior, Trump criticized former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, the Democrats who, respectively, created Bears Ears and another Utah monument, Grand Staircase-Escalante.
“It’s time to end these abuses and return the control of the land to the people, the people of Utah,” Trump said. The president turned to praise Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), a staunch opponent of the monuments, who stood at his side.
Hatch was an early Trump supporter who helped him carry Utah in the presidential election when his victory there was in doubt. He is also chairman of the Finance Committee, which will debate the tax overhaul and health-care bills the president desperately wants to pass.