(Adds Zinke meeting with county commissioner on Tuesday,
By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON May 1 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.
"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.
(Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; additional reporting by Liz
Hampton in Houston; Editing by David Gregorio and Lisa Shumaker)