Senator Orrin Hatch: Turning the clock back to the 1950s

Tells Native American tribes to “just take my word for it”

Sen. Orrin Hatch | Twitter

This week Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is touring Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah, part of the Trump administration’s “review” of national monuments designated since 1996. It is widely expected this review and tour are precursors to eliminating or shrinking the national monument, which was established with support from an unprecedented coalition of Native American tribes who consider the land sacred. As Zinke tours Bears Ears, one of his guides, Senator Orrin Hatch, has made it clear he doesn’t think these tribal governments can think for themselves, and that he knows what’s best for their cultural heritage.

Since arriving in Utah, Secretary Zinke has stuck close to the side of Senator Orrin Hatch, who President Trump singled out as the inspiration for his anti-national monument executive order. Hatch and Zinke met on Sunday, held a press conference, and even had breakfast Monday morning before Zinke headed to Bears Ears.

At a joint press conference with Secretary Zinke, when asked about tribal support for Bears Ears National Monument, Senator Hatch let loose an unbelievable answer.

Salt Lake Tribune | May 7, 2017

This is a stunning quote that harkens back to a long, dark history of Native American disenfranchisement in Utah. Utah was one of the last states in the country to grant Native Americans the right to vote — and only then forced by a lawsuit — in 1957. That means Senator Hatch was old enough to vote and serve in the military before Utah’s native populations could vote.

Bears Ears National Monument | BLM Flickr

San Juan County, where Bears Ears National Monument is located, has a particularly egregious record of disenfranchisement. In 1974, Native American students sued the county, alleging a longstanding pattern of discrimination. The county agreed to implement bilingual education programs, which they failed to implement for nearly two decades. In 1983, the U.S. Department of Justice sued the county for violating the Voting Rights Act, resulting in new county commission districts and the election of the county’s first Native American commissioner. More recently, in 2016 the county was ordered to redraw county commission districts again to more accurately represent the Native American population, and then sued again for possible Voting Rights Act violations.

Not only is Senator Hatch’s quote offensive, it ignores the extensive efforts of an unprecedented coalition of five tribes — Navajo, Ute, Zuni, Hopi, and Ute Mountain Ute — which petitioned President Obama to designate Bears Ears National Monument. As a part of the designation, President Obama ordered the creation of a Bears Ears Commission, comprised of elected tribal representatives, to provide input on managing the national monument. Furthermore, President Obama’s proclamation expressly guarantees access for tribal members for traditional cultural uses, including gathering firewood, medicine and other forest products.

As Secretary Zinke tours Bears Ears National Monument, we hope he’ll take time to understand the facts. Unfortunately, if Senator Hatch’s comments are any indication, he’ll only hear a boatload of lies intended to eliminate one of our newest national monuments at all costs.