Representatives from five Native American tribes and US government officials on June 22 signed a historic agreement placing Bears Ears National Monument in the joint care of the tribes and the federal government. The Utah park, encompassing roughly 1.8 million acres and comprising red rock canyons and active pasturelands and home to numerous petroglyphs and pictographs, will be comanaged by the Hopi Tribe, the 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 Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service.
The signing marked the culmination of a years-long effort on the part of the tribes to gain control of their homelands, which have been inhabited by humans for thirteen thousand years. After years of attempting to regain control of their homelands, considered by Indigenous residents to contain sacred sites, the five tribal nations in 2015 converged to create the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition. Then-president Barack Obama in 2016 promised to transfer stewardship of the land to the tribes, as was permissible under the Antiquities Act of 1906, but did not manage to do so before leaving office. The Trump administration in 2017 redrew the monument’s boundaries, shrinking the site by 85 percent in a bid to extract resources and prompting the World Monuments Fund to proclaim it an endangered site. President Biden undid the boundary 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 interior attempts to repair its relationships with Indigenous populations, 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 homelands to help repair them and plan for a resilient future,” said Carleton Bowekaty, cochair of the Bears Ears Commission and lieutenant governor of the Pueblo of Zuni.