Five Native American tribes have entered into a historic agreement with the U.S. federal government to co-manage Bears Ears National Monument, the site in southeastern Utah that spans nearly two million acres and is home to a rich concentration ancient Aboriginal artifacts, dwellings, petroglyphs and pictographs.
The Trump administration reduced the monument’s boundaries by 85% to open the site up for uranium mining and other resources in 2017 – leading the World Monuments Fund to classify it as an endangered site — a decision that was reversed by the administration of President Joseph R. Biden in October of last year.
Republican lawmakers in Utah are currently trying to overturn Biden’s term, saying his invocation of the Antiquities Act – a 1906 law allowing presidents to designate federal lands as protected monuments for cultural, historical or scientific purposes. – constitutes an “acrimonious legal challenge” that goes against the interests of state, local and tribal governments.
The area was protected in 2016 by then-President Barack Obama after decades of activism by conservationists, archaeologists and indigenous tribes who claim ancestral and current ties to the area. However, Obama’s pledge to give the tribes the right to co-manage the site has not been formalized so far.
The five tribes involved in the decision include the Zuni Pueblo, Hopi, Navajo, Ute and Ute Mountain Ute. The purpose of the agreement is to ensure that tribes have a voice in all decisions made by the Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service, such as resource protection, access and program development.
“Instead of being removed from a landscape to make way for a public park, we are being invited back to our ancestral lands to help repair them and plan for a resilient future,” said Carleton Bowekaty, Lieutenant Governor of the Zuni Pueblo, in a statement released by the Bureau of Land Management.