Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland becomes emotional as President Joe Biden announces the expansion of areas of three national monuments at the White House on October 08, 2021 in Washington, DC. The Biden administration restored the areas of two Utah parks with lands held sacred by several Native American tribes, Bears Ears National Monument and the Grand Staircase-Escalante, as well as the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts of the New England coast, after former President Donald Trump opened them to mining, drilling and development during his time in office. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Tribal leaders are praising President Joe Biden, who last week signed proclamations fully restoring Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments that were both cut into by the previous Trump administration by nearly 2 million acres total.
“The president’s protection of these three national monuments is among a series of steps the administration has taken to restore protections to some of America’s most cherished lands and waters, many of which are sacred to Tribal Nations,” the White House said in a statement.
The area has traditional ties to Pueblo and Navajo communities. In 2016, the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition — comprised of the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and the Zuni Tribe — petitioned then-President Barack Obama to protect the site, only to see his successor, President Trump, reverse the decision and reduce the area by 85% less than a year later.
In a statement, the coalition said Biden is moving in the right direction. “President Biden will be recognizing the deep and enduring ancestral and cultural connections that Tribes have to this landscape and taking a step toward honoring his commitment to Indigenous People by acknowledging their original place in this country that is now our shared home.”
In June, Biden sent Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to tour the area with stakeholders in southern Utah. She recommended Biden use the Antiquities Act to enlarge the monuments. According to the White House, new Bears Ears will actually be larger than the original region Obama designated.
Haaland, who is the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary and a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, praised Biden for the move.
“I am proud to stand with President Biden in restoring these monuments and fulfilling his commitment to the American people,” Haaland said. “The historical connection between Indigenous peoples and Bears Ears is undeniable.”
Haaland’s recommendation is considered a “watershed” moment by Indigenous leaders.
“You’re starting to see the stewardship and the conservation that many of our tribal communities and Indigenous peoples have have had for millennia be turned into policy, good public policy that will support not just the wishes of tribal communities but generations of Americans to come,” said Keegan King, a board member with the conservation group New Mexico Wild.
A version of this story first ran in the Advance‘s sister outlet, Source New Mexico. Read the story here.
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