President Joe Biden must keep an important promise to people who helped him win the election. He can listen to the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, which went on the offensive this week to persuade Biden to restore and expand Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. The coalition launched a six-figure advertising campaign with one clear message.
No more deliberating. No more delays.
The president must restore Bears Ears, an area established Dec. 28, 2016, by President Barack Obama through the Antiquities Act of 1906. That wasn’t enough to protect it from the Trump administration, which reduced the monument by 85 percent. It’s an action still being fought in court.
For tribal citizens, the land has cultural and spiritual significance. It is sacred to a variety of Native people, including the Hopi, Ute, Ute Mountain and Zuni tribes, plus the Navajo Nation.
Listen to their words. This, from coalition co-Chairman and Hopi Tribe Vice Chairman Clark Tenakhongva: “My bloodline and culture come from Bears Ears, my clan migrated through that area. If your eyes are open, the evidence is everywhere. Former President [Donald] Trump wanted to diminish our connection to Bears Ears, but President Biden has the power to set the record straight. We trust him to get this right.”
The Native vote in key states, particularly Arizona, helped Biden secure his hard-fought win in November. He promised on the campaign trail and after taking office he would manage public lands in cooperation with tribal nations.
Appointing New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland — a Laguna Pueblo tribal member — as the first Indigenous secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior showed Biden’s resolve to select a Cabinet that reflects the nation. It would be a slap in the face if she were unable to announce the decision that Bears Ears would fulfill its original promise.
Part of that promise came from how Bears Ears was established. From the beginning, tribes were a key part of planning and petitioning for its protection. That was new. Before, historians, conservationists, scientists, archaeologists and others had asked for areas to be protected under the Antiquities Act — but not tribal nations. Their inclusion reflected a better understanding of the significance of Bears Ears and acknowledgement tribes would have a say in how it would be administered.
Today, coalition members want to see not only a restoration of the original acreage, but expansion to 1.9 million acres, complete with a comprehensive land management plan, focusing on protecting natural, scientific and cultural resources.
Biden should push back against local opposition, including from his occasional ally, U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah. A nod to bipartisanship cannot be an excuse to strip Native people of land that is essential to their heritage — or, for that matter, to deny all people this land of unparalleled beauty and significance.
Bears Ears offers the president a rare opportunity to reward supporters while doing the right thing — protecting a priceless piece of American heritage for today, tomorrow and long into the future.