Bishop’s gambit declined |

Bishop’s gambit declined

By Jay Meehan
Park Record columnist

In the wake of statewide polls showing a majority of Utahns favoring a National Monument designation for the Bears Ears region, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, to utilize parlance from the game of Chess, has recently “offered” a relatively late-in-the-match “gambit” in his ongoing war of words with the Interior Department of the Obama administration.

The Chess term “gambit” seems to have originally evolved from a 16th Century Italian expression meaning “to put a leg forward in order to trip someone,” which makes it perfect for discussing Rep. Bishop’s latest tweak to his Public Lands Initiative.

Now, in order for a “gambit” to appear enticing enough for the opponent to readily “accept” the “offer,” a “sacrifice,” or at least the appearance of sacrifice, must come into play. It usually arrives in the form of a “pawn” being put in harm’s way in order to tempt the opponent into capturing the piece and, thereby, furthering the larger agenda of the “offering” side.

Interestingly enough, in this match, we have both a pawn and a Bishop embodied in the same piece. Not that the Honorable Representative is totally at the beck-and-call of fossil fuel interests as Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. Let’s just say that, now that we’re rummaging through panty drawers, there may be some intriguing emails floating about.

But, back to the gambit in question. In a meeting last week with the editorial boards of both KSL and the Deseret News, Bishop, obviously on friendly media turf, said he actually “likes” the idea of co-management of the lands in question. It wasn’t made clear at the time whether or not this seeming reversal came about through a “vision” or an “epiphany.”

I use the term “reversal” due to the fact that when, in good faith, the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition of the Hopi, Navajo, Ute Mountain Ute, Zuni, and Ute sovereign nations originally attempted to actively engage with those taking input for the PLI, they finally, out of honor and due to feeling totally ignored, left the table.

Since, in his view, the concept of Native American involvement in the management of a National Monument contains “fatal flaws,” Rep. Bishop’s “Trojan pawn” contains within its sacrifice: the offer to assemble a “Bears Ears Tribal Commission,” which, of course, would be filled by tribal members who emerge from Bishop’s own “extreme vetting” process.

It would be quite surprising if the larger coalition favoring Monument status for what the Natives consider sacred lands — by which I mean, in the main, those groups associated with clean energy and climate justice — would be naïve enough to be fooled by the gambit.

Which brings up yet another Chess term often utilized once a gambit has been “offered.” That would be “declined.” As in: “We see right through your offering and don’t believe for a moment that, by accepting it, our best interests would be served.”

There remains, of course, a bitter taste in the mouths of many opposing Monument status that goes back to 1996 and President Clinton’s use of the Antiquities Act to designate the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah.

So much so that Rep. Bishop included in another bill a provision that would prohibit utilizing the Antiquities Act within any area covered by his Public Land Initiative. (Hmm. The plot thickens.) I should mention that the aforementioned poll also showed that most Utahns have come around on Grand Staircase-Escalante and now support it.

With corporate America feeling threatened by even the thought of sovereign tribes acquiring partial oversight of non-reservation western lands, keep in mind that the Nixonian “dirty tricks” mindset is always at the ready. As Hemingway might say, keep your “bullshit detectors” enabled.

I would hope that President Obama would see that much more is at stake here than just his environmental legacy. It’s not much of a reach to include atonement for past cultural atrocities, not to mention measures that could have a positive impact on future planetary health. Anyone know how to say “take your pawn and shove it!” in Navajo?

The time is right! The Republicans expect it anyway. Once the November elections are in the rear-view mirror, Mr. President, invoke the Antiquities Act and designate Bears Ears National Monument. And while you’re at it, free Leonard Peltier!

Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.

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