Representatives of five Native American tribes and U.S. government officials signed a historic agreement June 22 placing Bears Ears National Monument under joint tribal and federal custody. The Utah park, which covers approximately 1.8 million acres and features red rock canyons and active pastures and is home to numerous petroglyphs and pictographs, will be co-managed by the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Pueblo of Zuni , the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe in conjunction with the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.
The signing marked the culmination of a years-long effort by the tribes to take control of their native lands, which have been inhabited by humans for thirteen thousand years. After years of trying to regain control of their homelands, considered by Indigenous residents to contain sacred sites, the five tribal nations converged in 2015 to create the Intertribal Bears Ears Coalition. Then-president Barack Obama promised in 2016 to transfer land stewardship to tribes, as permitted by the Antiquities Act of 1906, but failed to do so before leaving office. The Trump administration in 2017 redrew the monument’s boundaries, shrinking the site by 85% in an effort to extract resources and prompting the World Monuments Fund to proclaim it an endangered site. President Biden reversed the border change in 2021.
Bureau of Land Management Director Tracy Stone-Manning called the agreement “an important step as we move forward together to ensure that tribal expertise and traditional perspectives remain at the forefront of our joint decision-making. for the Bears Ears National Monument”.
The move comes as the US Department of the Interior attempts to restore its relationship with indigenous peoples, whose citizens it has historically uprooted. “Today, 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, co-chair of the Bears Ears Commission and lieutenant governor of the Pueblo of Zuni.