The Biden administration on Saturday reached an agreement granting five Native American tribes more control over the day-to-day operations of Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah.
According to Axios, the co-management agreement would establish a new precedent in an otherwise tense relationship between the tribes and the federal government.
The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, along with the U.S. Forest Service, signed the agreement with five tribes near Bears Ears: the Hopi Tribe, the Pueblo of Zuni, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, and the Navajo Nation.
The agreement holds that each tribe will contribute one elected officer to the Bears Ears Commission. From there, the commission and the federal agencies will work to ensure the “planning, management, conservation, restoration and protection of the sacred lands” within Bears Ears, as well as “the protection of ceremonies, rituals, and traditional uses that are part of the Tribal Nations’ way of life on these lands since time immemorial.”
Under the agreement, resources of support will be provided to each tribe by the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service, the bureau said in a news release.
Carleton Bowekaty, co-chair of the Bears Ears Commission and lieutenant governor of the Pueblo of Zuni, said in a statement that “today, instead of being removed from a landscape to make way for a public park, we are being invited back to our ancestral homelands to help repair them and plan for a resilient future.”
The Bureau of Land Management’s director, Tracy Stone-Manning, also said in a news release that the agreement 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 the Bears Ears National Monument.”
In 2016, then-President Barack Obama made a proclamation establishing the Bears Ears National Monument. In 2017, then-President Donald Trump cut the size of Bears Ears by 1.1 million acres. But in 2021, President Joe Biden expanded Bears Ears to cover 1.36 million acres, a move slightly larger than Obama’s previous establishment.