What Do Indigenous Leaders Think About Co-Managing Bears Ears With the Feds?

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After decades of fighting for their ancestral lands, Native advocates share hope and relief.

This story was originally published by High Country News and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

In June, federal and tribal officials signed an intergovernmental cooperative management agreement for Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah. It followed a historic congressional hearing during which tribal leaders spoke to the House Natural Resources Committee about the potential value of Native co-management of federal lands.

Under the new agreement, the Bears Ears Commission, which is composed of five tribes—the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, and Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation—will work with the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service “to provide consistent, effective, and collaborative management of the lands and resources” by “coordinating on land use planning and implementation, as well as the development of long-term resource management and programmatic goals.”

The agreement is an important step, but it is not without precedent: Four national parks are already co-managed by tribal nations—inspired in at least one instance by the success of Uluru-Kata Tjutu, which is co-managed by the Australian government and the land’s rightful Indigenous owners. Around 80 other agreements support collaborative relationships between the National Park Service and U.S. tribes. These have all served as test cases for Bears Ears, which could now become the touchstone for a more expansive network of co-management agreements between tribes and the federal government. 

High Country News asked four Native leaders who have spent years fighting for Bears Ears what this co-management agreement might mean for the future. 

These conversations have been condensed for length and clarity. 

HCN: If successful, this agreement could potentially expand either within Bears Ears or to other federal lands. What will successful co-management look like? 

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