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

Published May 8, 2017 12:25 pm

Rally • Crowd wants Interior chief to hear more than voices of state's politicians.
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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."

She further argued that tourists visiting these monuments have helped, not hurt, the local economy — a point reiterated by Nate Waggoner, of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce, near the Grand Staircase monument.

At the same time supporters were meeting in Salt Lake City, dozens of Bears Ears opponents gathered in Blanding's Pioneer Park.

"Unlike the rally being held 300 miles away at the state Capitol, the San Juan celebration of local voices is about bringing together those who know and love our public lands the most," Ryan Bennaly, vice president of Stewards of San Juan County, wrote on the group's website. "For the monument advocates far, far away, San Juan County is a vacation spot. For First Nations people, it's our home."

At the Blanding rally, Jami Bayles urged participants to meet back at the park Monday, when they hope to meet with the secretary in person.

"San Juan County is eager to have Secretary Zinke visit our home and see firsthand why locals oppose the national monument designation," Bayles wrote on the site. "We have worked tirelessly to advocate for what's best for this land, and it's nice to know that someone is finally listening."

Back at the Capitol rally, attended by many Native Americans and some residents of San Juan County, Jared Campbell of Salt Lake City brought his 3-year-old daughter, Phoebe, because she's "grown up living in the outdoors."

Recently, Campbell spent four days in the designated area, drinking in its beauty and grandeur.

After that experience, he wondered if monument opponents across the state have "touched the soil" there.

Zinke will have his chance this week. He plans a full day of meetings in San Juan County on Monday, followed by a visit to Bears Ears on Tuesday. He'll then travel to Kanab and a part of the Grand Staircase monument on Wednesday.

pstack@sltrib.com

 

 

 

 

 

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