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Tribes, advocates praise Bears Ears restoration

Tribal leaders, land advocates and former government leaders were among those who gathered in southern Utah Friday, to hear and praise President Biden’s announcement restoring the boundaries to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.

“It brought tears to my eyes to know somebody in the hall of congress and the president of the United States decided to restore this,” said Kenneth Maryboy, a former Navajo Nation Council delegate and former San Juan County Commissioner.

In 2017 then-President Donald Trump’s signature downsized Bears Ears by 85% and cut Grand Staircase-Escalante in half. Maryboy said these last four years have “been quite a struggle to know what the outcome is going to be.”

Maryboy and others huddled together in part of the land that had been cut off from Bears Ears by Trump to hear President Biden’s announcement on the expanded boundaries.

Cheers followed and soon turned into a prayer and song of gratitude.

“It’s a blessing. It’s a blessing,” said Mary Benally, a board member of Dine Bikeyah, a group that works to protect and preserve Bears Ears and other cultural uses of public lands by tribes.

“This land is a sacred place for us. We want to keep this land in its pristine state.”

Among the many visitors who gathered was former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, who oversaw the designation of Grand Staircase as a national monument under Bill Clinton’s administration.

“This is a great day in the history of the west,” Babbitt said. “I was confident that when Trump [downsized the monuments] that it wouldn’t last. But I’m pleased in my lifetime it’s all been put back together.”

As part of his announcement Friday, President Biden gave some credit to a young girl who had asked him to restore Bears Ears while on the campaign trail.

Gavin Noyes knew right away the president was talking about his daughter, Bianca, who he says presented then-candidate Biden with a stack of cards while he was campaigning in Park City.

“It’s not even something I remotely expected,” Noyes said, happy his daughter had an impact on the decision. “When we got here it was not a national monument and this afternoon its now Bears Ears National Monument.”

The move was a moment of clarity after an uncertain four years for tribal leaders.

“To be at ease today is a great, great feeling,” Maryboy said.

“We want to keep this land as it is. We don’t want any change,” Benally said.

Still, they know the work is far from over. The administration is expected to give tribes more of a voice and control in the management of the land for generations to come.

“We have to live together to preserve and to try to save what we have.”

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