A guest on Fox News made inaccurate claims when he said Native Americans have been hurt by national monument designations in southern Utah, and his Fox interviewer failed to question or push back against his claims.
Boyd Matheson, president of the conservative, Utah-based Sutherland Institute, was interviewed by host Shannon Bream on Fox News @ Night on December 4:
BOYD MATHESON: Grazing goes down with these big national monuments. Ranchers are hurt, farmers are hurt. The local Navajo tribes are really hurt because they’re not able to access these lands which they use not only for their wood to heat their homes and gathering herbs and berries and doing their spiritual traditions there on the mountain. So it’s an important day. This was critical. We got involved in this whole process because those voices weren’t being heard.
The segment aired a few hours after President Donald Trump signed proclamations to dramatically shrink two national monuments in southern Utah — the Bears Ears National Monument, which was established by President Barack Obama at the end of 2016, and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which was designated by President Bill Clinton in 1996. Both designations were made under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which was intended to protect Native American ruins and artifacts.
Matheson was flat-out wrong to say that national monument protections prevent Native Americans from gathering herbs, foods, or wood on the land. Obama’s proclamation establishing Bears Ears calls for the federal government to “provide access by members of Indian tribes for traditional cultural and customary uses … including collection of medicines, berries and other vegetation, forest products, and firewood for personal noncommercial use.” Some Native Americans endorsed the creation of Bears Ears specifically because they saw it as a way to protect their rights to hunt and gather on the land.
Matheson was also wrong to suggest that Native American communities broadly supported Trump’s move to shrink the monuments and roll back protections from about 2 million acres. Some members of the Navajo Nation backed Trump, including a few who were present at the signing ceremony. But Bears Ears has been widely endorsed by Native Americans, many of whom consider the area sacred. The monument was created in response to a proposal from a coalition of five Native American tribes in the region, including the Navajo Nation. The coalition pushed for years to get Bears Ears protected, with the backing of an additional 25 tribes.
MSNBC does a better job
Contrast that Fox segment — which featured a white man pretending to represent Native American views and misrepresenting the impacts of Trump’s action on tribes — with coverage on MSNBC in the wake of Trump’s move.
MSNBC host Ali Velshi conducted substantive interviews with three Native American leaders, all of whom opposed shrinking the monuments: Shaun Chapoose, a member of the Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee; Jonathan Nez, vice president of the Navajo Nation; and Ethel Branch, attorney general for the Navajo Nation.
Chapoose was interviewed by Velshi on MSNBC Live with Katy Tur:
SHAUN CHAPOOSE: I sat and listened to the president’s speech, and what is interesting is nowhere in that discussion do we as Native Americans even take any recognition as far as protecting our rights. People forget, we were the first residents of the state of Utah, long before it was a state. And the areas in question have historical artifacts, they have graveyards, they have all kinds of things which are sacred to not just my tribe but all the tribes in the state of Utah and outside the state of Utah.
Nez and Branch were guests on MSNBC Live with Ali Velshi:
JONATHAN NEZ: It’s a sad day in Indian country. It’s a sad day for Americans to where the president says that the law of the land, and Antiquities Act is the law of the land, but he is overstepping his own authority by doing this type of action, and it’s quite saddening to see this happen today here in the state of Utah. But for us, we hold that area as [a] historic place.
ETHEL BRANCH: [Trump] is completely missing, completely misunderstanding, what an Indian nation is and is ignoring the fact that we are sovereigns, we’re governments, and we expect to be engaged on a nation-to-nation basis, and we have treaties, federal law, federal statutes, federal common law that define that relationship and there’s absolutely no understanding of that from the actions we’ve seen from both President Trump, as well as [Interior Secretary Ryan] Zinke. They think that talking to one Native American person, one Navajo person, constitutes consultation with the Navajo Nation, and they’re both gravely mistaken. We have our own tribal laws that define who can speak on behalf of our nation and we want those laws to be respected.
This would be a good time to reiterate a key lesson from Journalism 101: Don’t let a white man speak on behalf of Native Americans or any other communities of color. It’s a lesson Fox has long neglected.