He claims removing Confederate statues would be offensive to "Native Indians" four months after he recommended opening sacred Navajo land to oil and gas drilling.
In the wake of the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Donald Trump quickly came out in favor of Confederate monuments that were erected to glorify white supremacy, calling these monuments “beautiful.”
For the most part, the Trump administration has parroted Confederate apologist rhetoric that the statues are necessary to honor America’s “heritage” and “history,” despite being totally fine with black Civil War and Reconstruction heroes not getting any statues of their own.
But Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, in an interview with Breitbart, offered a novel argument for why we must leave up Confederate monuments:
Where do you start and where do you stop? It’s a slippery slope. If you’re a native Indian, I can tell you, you’re not very happy about the history of General Sherman or perhaps President Grant.
In other words, we cannot get rid of statues of Confederate generals because Native Americans might get mad about statues of Union generals.
The idea Zinke would in any way speak for the welfare and protection of Native Americans is ridiculous, given that just four months ago, his department recommended reducing Bears Ears Monument in Utah — a proposal that could open up parts of sacred Native land to fracking and oil drilling.
Bears Ears — a 1.3 million acre protected area that is home to around 100,000 archeological sites — was designated by President Barack Obama in his final full month of office, at the urging of the Navajo Nation. Zinke has attacked the designation, calling it “not the best use of the land.”
As far as Zinke is concerned, tearing down statues of Robert E. Lee would be a mortal threat to Native Americans, but erecting an oil derrick next to a Native burial ground is fine.
It is absolutely true that we need a deeper national conversation about the horrors perpetrated on indigenous peoples by the United States, including by American statesmen and cultural heroes of the 18th and 19th centuries — and given that we cannot even seem to get rid of Columbus Day, we have a long way to go.
But that is not what Zinke wants. He is using the issue as a cudgel to silence an equally important debate about the ongoing sanitation of slavery and white supremacy.
You need only dig as deep as a natural gas well to see the sincerity of Zinke’s wish to honor Native Americans.