In a new agreement, five Native American tribes and the US federal government have agreed to jointly manage Bears Ears National Monument, a 1.3 million acre protected landscape in Utah.
The monument – first designated in 2016 under President Obama – houses archaeological sites, including petroglyphs (rock art) and structures such as ancient cliff dwellings, with significant cultural significance to local tribes.
The five tribes include the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, and the Pueblo of Zuni.
The agreement, signed on Saturday, comes after hundreds of years in which conflict and animosity between the federal government and Native American communities have been common.
“What can be a better path to restorative justice than giving tribes the opportunity to participate in the management of the lands from which their ancestors were driven? Carleton Bowekaty, lieutenant governor of Zuni Pueblo and co-chair of the Bears Ears Commission, said in a statement.
Under the new agreement, the tribes — along with the federal government’s Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service — will cooperate on decisions about land use, resource protection, and ensuring that “tribal nations have access to Sacred Sites and Other Areas of Tribal Significance,” among other management objectives.
Throughout the history of the United States, the federal government has often fought with Native American communities, including expelling many tribes from their lands and forcibly placing Native American children in boarding schools – in addition to directly carrying out wars against certain tribes.
“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,” Mr Bowekaty said. in the press release.
Former President Obama first created the Bears Ears monument – named after two twin mounds in the landscape – in late 2016 after advocacy from tribes, according to the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition.
The monument was created under the Antiquities Act, which gives the US President the ability to designate national monuments without going through Congress. These areas, which enjoy certain protections, include sites of historical, archaeological and natural significance across the country.
In 2017, the Trump administration sought to shrink Bears Ears to around 200,000 acres, a roughly 85% reduction in size. But last year, the Biden administration restored the monument’s actual size to more than 1.3 million acres — about 75% larger than Yosemite National Park.
“This is 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 Bears Ears National Monument,” said the director of the Office of Land Management, Tracy Stone-Manning, via news release. , commenting on the signing of the agreement this week.