Haaland Met with State and Tribal Leaders to Talk Future of Bears Ears National Monument

Secretary Deb Haaland at Valley of the Gods, Bears Ears        Photo: @SecDebHaaland Twitter

By Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

Days after announcing a $1.6 billion investment into national parks, reserves, and Indigenous schools, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland visited Bears Ears National Monument to speak to Utah state and Tribal leaders about the future of the monument. Many leaders expressed excitement for the first Indigenous Cabinet member to visit the monument, which was created in 2016 by former President Barack Obama. “My message is really very simple,” she said. “I’m here to listen, I’m here to learn,” said Haaland.   The Bears Ears National Monument was created in 2016 at the request of five Indigenous Tribes and originally spanned 1.65 million acres of Utah and Nevada.

Why This Matters: In 2017, the Trump administration reduced the Monument by nearly one million acres and opened the land up to cattle grazing and off-road vehicles. The decisions outraged local communities and Tribes who petitioned against the rollbacks — and in the meantime, there has been serious damage to many precious artifacts. President Biden opened a review of the boundaries of both Bears Ears National Monument and neighboring Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, giving communities hope he will restore Indigenous sovereignty and protection for both. Haaland’s visit represents the first steps in protecting not only these lands but also 30% of all U.S. lands and waters before 2030 as promised.

Ping-Pong, But Make It Worse

After years of “ping-ponging” protests, some of which resulted in riot-geared police clearing protesters from the streets, leaders are asking that the federal government go through Congress to make lasting policy that would end the debate. “Ping-ponging is probably the wrong word because ping-pong is fun,” said Utah Governor Spencer Cox. “There’s nothing fun about what we’ve been arguing about over the past decade. Can we find the solutions? I think there is an opportunity for that, to provide the resources that are needed. But all of those things can only be done through legislation. It can’t be done through an executive order. But that’s hard. That’s hard work. If it was easy, we would have done it already.”

However, Clark Tenakhongva, vice chairman of the Hopi Tribal Council and co-chair of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, had hoped that Biden would use an early executive order to restore the monuments to their original size. He also expressed disappointment that the federal courts hadn’t yet ruled on whether or not Trump had the authority to reduce the monument in the first place.

Senator Mitt Romney pledged to work with local Tribes to determine the future, finalized boundaries of Bears Ears, but stopped short of promising that the original boundaries would be restored. But while some are looking for restoration, others are looking for greater protections. “I would like to have the monument restored to the original size or maybe even more,” said San Juan County Commissioner Kenneth Maryboy. “1.9 [million acres] would be good.”

Nonetheless, many Tribal leaders are optimistic that Haaland’s ties to the land and its people will guide empathetic and cooperative policy. “Not only is she the first Native American woman to be sitting in such a high position,” Tenakhongva said, “but the feeling that I got from her was that she is Puebloan and she seems to comprehend and understand a lot of the cultural issues of how we Pueblo people — nations of Hopi and Zuni and other Pueblo nations — affiliate ourselves really strongly with the Bears Ears [and surrounding areas].” Haaland is also expected to pay a quick visit to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in the coming days to meet with community stakeholders.

To Go Deeper: Check out the Washington Post ed board’s forceful endorsement of restoring protection for these precious lands.

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