Helping tribes have a say in the management of public lands


The relationship between tribal nations and the federal government is on the verge of a new era. Americans realize that tribal perspectives are crucial to a future that embraces climate resilience and enhanced biodiversity. Upon taking office, President Biden recognized this by directing federal agencies to embrace traditional ecological knowledge. The new federal guidelines reflect a commitment to strengthen a nation-to-nation relationship based on respect and cooperation.

This new era of tribal-federal relations is most evident with the five tribes of the Bears Ears Commission (BEC) and their role as collaborative stewards, with the Bureau of Land Management and the USDA Forest Service, for the Bears Ears National Monument (BENM ).

After years of advocacy by grassroots organizers and five sovereign tribal nations, BENM was created by President Obama in 2016. It represented a new chapter in government-to-government relationships between tribes and federal agencies by creating the BEC. The first iteration of the national monument and BEC was short-lived due to President Trump’s modification of the monument’s boundaries in 2017, the effects of which are still the subject of litigation in court today.

Last October, President Biden reinstated Bears Ears and re-recognized the BEC. The commission is not a stakeholder or an interested party, but a true partner in collaborative management. The Bears Ears region, in addition to being a national treasure and a place of wonder, is part of the ancestral lands of the five tribes of the BEC. The Zuni, Hopi, Ute Mountain Ute, Ute Indian tribes and the Navajo Nation each have deep ties to these lands, which their ancestors have preserved since time immemorial.

In this new role as a collaborative management partner, the commission spoke publicly about the Tribes’ goals for the monument in the form of a Tribal Land Management Plan (TMP). The MTP is an extraordinary and unique document that bridges the gap between theory and practice and illustrates how traditional knowledge can help conserve one of the most vulnerable landscapes in so-called North America.

Recently, the Department of the Interior and the USDA issued the Joint Secretariat Order on Fulfilling Fiduciary Responsibility to Indian Tribes in the Stewardship of Federal Lands and Waters. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said, “By recognizing and empowering tribes as partners in the co-stewardship of our nation’s lands and waters, every American will benefit from stronger stewardship of our lands. and federal resources.

The vast tracts of federally managed lands in the West are adjacent to and intertwined with the ancestral lands of tribal nations. On these public lands are resources protected by treaty and guaranteed to the tribes, a tacit recognition that Indigenous nations were here first and still have legal ties to the resources on the lands from which their ancestors were driven.

What Bears Ears represents is the ability of tribes to have a say in the management of their off-reserve ancestral lands, as an exercise of sovereignty. Creating institutions that allow tribes to have a say in the management of public lands is an act of restorative justice, and the time has come when tribes have that opportunity.

We may be facing a new chapter in tribal-federal relations, and we need public support now more than ever.


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