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Remarks Spark Tension During Interior Secretary's Utah Visit

Judy Fahys
Interior Secretary Ryan ZInke has been joined in his Utah travels with federal, state and local Republicans. Native American supporters of Bears Ears National Monument say they feel shut out.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s visit to the Bears Ears National Monument has sparked new tensions.

He’d just left the room Sunday when Utah Senator Orrin Hatch made his controversial remarks. Hatch said Native Americans who support the national monument here in southeastern Utah don’t understand how it will affect their own lives.

“They’d be severely restricted on what they could or could not do on the land,” Hatch told reporters.

The monument, he went on to say, set the stage for more wilderness.

“It’ll never cease until the far left gets their way in locking up all these lands in Utah,” he said, “and we’re just not going to allow that.”

Then, on Monday, Native Americans joined dozens of protestors who greeted Zinke at the trailhead to an ancient cliff dwelling. One wearing a Protect Bears Ears T-shirt pressed him and recorded Zinke’s response on videotape, including his wagging finger.

“Zinke, Are you going to visit with the tribes more?,” asked Cassadra Begay.

“Be nice,” said Zinke.

“I’m so nice.”

"Be nice."

“Oh, okay,” Begay said.

“ Don’t be rude,” Zinke said. “Thank you.”

“I asked you a simple question, sir.”

Zinke had met with tribal leaders the day before. But most of his scheduled talks have been with monument opponents, including at least one Native American he said.

“This seems to be a pattern within the current GOP – this pattern of paternalism, this pattern of arrogance, this pattern of condescension,” said Moroni Benally, founder of the Utah League of Native American Voters.

Now he’s calling on Hatch to apologize for his remarks.

And, meanwhile, others are still looking to the Interior Secretary to collaborate with tribes in protecting their sacred lands and traditions.

Like Willie Grayeyes, who was on horseback when Zinke stepped up for a chat.

“I thanked him very much for stopping by and said, ‘This is a sign of respect.’ I appreciate that.”

Greyeyes said Zinke told him they’ll work TOGETHER on a solution.

On Tuesday, ZInke heads to Dugout Ranch outside Canyonlands National Park.


Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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