Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee
At a ceremony today, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, and the five tribes that make up the Bears Ears Commission — the Hopi Tribe, the Navajo Nation, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, and the Pueblo of Zuni — signed an inter-governmental cooperative agreement to formalize their partnership to manage the 1.36 million acres of the Bears Ears National Monument. The five tribes have inhabited the region since time immemorial.
On the new cooperative agreement, Committee on Natural Resources Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said:
“Giving the tribes, the original inhabitants of our public lands, a say in how lands are managed and protected shouldn’t be a radical idea. But for far too long, our federal government has treated it like one. Indigenous Peoples have a profound and unique understanding of their ancestral homelands, as well as a cultural connection to many of the sacred spaces on these lands. We should be honoring and elevating Indigenous ecological knowledge in the stewardship of our lands, not silencing it, as we have so often done in the past. I’m grateful to the Biden administration for taking this important step for both Bears Ears and for the tribes who call the region home.”
In December 2017, the Trump administration ignored tribal input and illegally shrank Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent, the largest rollback of public lands protections in history. On October 8, 2021, President Biden restored the monument’s boundaries and reinstated the Bears Ears Commission.
Last week, Chair Grijalva and Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) introduced two new pieces of companion legislation to elevate the role of tribal nations in public land management. The Advancing Tribal Parity on Public Land Act and the Tribal Cultural Areas Protection Act will update current public land management laws to improve protections for Indigenous sacred sites and other cultural areas, effectively expanding the Bears Ears model for co-management to other sites.
The full Committee held a historic oversight hearing on March 3, 2022 to examine the importance and benefits of tribal co-management of public lands. At the hearing, tribal witnesses shared testimony on the history of Indigenous land dispossession, opportunities to reverse course on that history, and existing examples of successful co-management efforts. National Park Service Director Chuck Sams also discussed how the agency already has and will continue to expand the role of tribal communities in federal land management.
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