By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Native American tribes that help manage the Bears Ears national monument in Utah raised concerns on Monday that the interior secretary has not responded to requests for a meeting ahead of his visit to Utah next week to review its monument designation.
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in Houston that he will visit the Bears Ears national monument in Utah next week to get input from “stakeholders” on whether to change the site’s monument designation, which President Barack Obama made in his last weeks in office in December. [nL1N1EN182]
“I’m going to ride a horse, like Teddy Roosevelt, and see the land and talk to the Navajo and the nations of tribes,” Zinke said at Offshore Technology Conference in Houston, where he signed an order to review existing offshore drilling bans.
An Interior Department representative said she did not know whether Zinke planned to meet with the inter-tribal coalition.
Zinke said he will be in Utah all week, and has 45 days to make a recommendation to President Donald Trump on which designations should be lifted or resized.
The five tribes that form the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition said they have not heard back from Zinke or his staff after a dozen attempts to set up a meeting with him.
“We want a sit-down meeting so we can seriously have a conversation about Bears Ears and how it came to be,” said Natasha Hale, lead representative for the coalition.
Bears Ears has been home to Hopi, Navajo, Ute Indian tribe, Ute Mountain tribe and Zuni. The tribes say the 1.3 million acres that are protected with the monument designation contains 100,000 archaeological and cultural sites.
They said proclamation ordering the designation finally gave tribes “a strong voice in how these lands are managed.”
“If Secretary Zinke truly believes that sovereignty should mean something, as he had said, we hope he will finally respond to the Tribes’ multiple requests to meet with him,” said Davis Filfred, a Navajo Nation council delegate.
Rebecca Benally, commissioner for Utah’s San Juan County and an opponent of the monument designation for Bears Ears, said she will meet on Tuesday with Zinke in Washington. Benally is a member of the Navajo Nation.
Utah’s governor and congressional delegation have opposed the Bears Ears monument designation, saying it restricts too much land from economic and resources development.