SALT LAKE CITY — Interior Secretary Sally Jewell issued a secretarial order Friday designed to boost the role Native American tribes play in the management of federal land and water resources — a potential positive step for supporters of a proposed national monument in Utah.
But Willie Grayeyes, a key Native American player in the push for a Bears Ears national monument, said the new directive falls short of what tribes want in a management approach for a proposed 1.9 million-acre monument in southeast Utah.
"I would have to read it, but if it is less than co-management, I think it would fall short of our goal," said Grayeyes, who is chairman of Utah Dine Bikeyah, a nonprofit advocating on behalf of indigenous people. "Equality is what I am looking for."
Efforts to reach leaders of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition were not successful, but Utah Dine Bikeyah has been active in the push for the monument designation.
Jewell announced the order at a conference of the Alaska Federation of Natives in Fairbanks, detailing that it ensures Native American communities have the opportunity to assume "meaningful and substantive roles" in managing public lands that have a special connection to the tribes, according to a news release.
"This secretarial order reflects the Obama administration's deep commitment to strengthen respect between the United States government and the Native American and Alaska Native leaders and communities, while boosting our efforts to increase tribal self-determination and self-governance," Jewell said.
But Grayeyes said "cooperative" management does not put Native American tribes on the same legal footing with the U.S. government.
"It seems they don't want to have a nation-to-nation, but rather a government-to-government," he said. "They want us to be up there, but at the same time be treated as less than equal."
Grayeyes stressed that he had not seen the order to know all its provisions, but the announcement stated the order does not "address co-management, which are situations where there is specific legal basis that requires co-management of natural resources, or that makes co-management otherwise necessary."
The order affects agencies under the purview of the Interior Department, such as the Bureau of Land Management, the chief landholder of the nearly 2 million acres in San Juan County known as the Bears Ears.
Tribes are seeking a monument designation under the Antiquities Act in which Native Americans are given co-management responsibilities for lands considered sacred to five ancestral tribes. They want President Obama to make the designation before he leaves office in January.
The monument push is fueling controversy — and division among some Native Americans — in a fight over what the Obama administration could assure tribes in contrast to existing federal laws critics say aren't enforced to safeguard cultural resources.
On one hand, monument supporters say rampant looting is occurring in the remote and rugged landscape that is woefully understaffed by federal land managers. On the other, critics say a monument designation won't come with any additional money to assure the degradation won't continue.
Utah's congressional delegation and Gov. Gary Herbert are pushing passage of Rep. Rob Bishop's Public Lands Initiative that would set up two national conservation areas in the region of 1.4 million acres.
The tribes behind the monument designation say the initiative falls far short of the protections they seek.
Bishop, who crafted the initiative over three years with input from county leaders, Utah Navajo chapters and a slew of other stakeholders, has repeatedly insisted the the Obama administration can't "deliver" what the tribes want in terms of co-management status.
He says his bill, if passed into law, would solidify their role of governance in the region, going beyond a federal "suggestion."