A team from Northern Arizona University facilitated the development of an agreement for cooperative stewardship at Canyon de Chelly National Monument, which the Navajo Nation, National Park Service (NPS) and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) signed recently. The agreement lays out legal roles and responsibilities for canyon management for each party, as well as principles for working together. It is the first agreement of its kind between the three entities.

Established in 1931 on Navajo land, Canyon de Chelly is a place of cultural, economic, and historic significance for many, and draws visitors from throughout the world. The Navajo Nation maintained rights to the land, and Navajo people continue to live and work in the canyon, but NPS, Navajo Nation and BIA each have management responsibilities at the canyon. Confusion about jurisdiction has sometimes been challenging for both staff and canyon residents, and disagreements about land use, law enforcement and development have persisted. A plan between the parties to collaboratively manage the canyon could provide a path forward, but a previous effort to create a joint management plan fell short.

In 2015, the parties decided to re-engage in joint-management planning.

“All of this started so the community had a better understanding of who was in charge of what,” Chinle Chapter President Myron McLaughlin said. “How can we address some of the erosion issues and land issues? How can we address any disputes in the canyon? A joint management plan will bring everyone to the table and create one voice that can carry for everyone.”

The Navajo Nation requested NAU’s assistance in determining roles and responsibilities of each organization by facilitating a Strategic Agreement for Cooperative Stewardship of Canyon de Chelly.

“This was an important step for the parties to clarify who is responsible for what and how they want to work together, before they move forward with developing a management plan,” said Sasha Stortz, senior research specialist at the Landscape Conservation Initiative (LCI), an NAU research center.

Canyon de Chelly project team

Several members of the project team gather after the signing, including Chinle Chapter President Myron McLaughlin, Danielle Yazzie (Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation), Bidtah Becker (Navajo Nation DNR), Ryan Tsingine (NAU), Sharon Pinto (BIA), President Russell Begaye (Navajo Nation), Pearl Chamberlin (BIA) and Sasha Stortz (NAU).

The NAU team included Stortz, as well as Colleen Cooley of the LCI, Erik Nielsen of the School of Earth and Sustainability and undergraduate student Ryan Tsingine. Together, they facilitated meetings between the Navajo Nation, its chapters, BIA and NPS, and coordinated a series of public meetings to identify the main issues affecting canyon residents and discuss residents’ roles in shared stewardship of the canyon. They also conducted legal research.

The resulting document is intended as a tool that canyon residents and government staff alike can use to increase coordination and effective stewardship.

“We’re really grateful to the community members, chapters and staff from the Navajo Nation, NPS and BIA who contributed their time and perspective to develop this agreement,” Cooley said. “Without their knowledge, this would be a very different document.”

This summer, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, NPS Superintendent Lyn Carranza and BIA Regional Director Sharon Pinto signed the strategic agreement in a public ceremony.

“This agreement represents a critical step in developing a historic joint management plan between federal and tribal agencies and community residents,” Nielsen said. “We hope this process will serve as a model for developing new forms of collaborative park management in the U.S. between tribes and federal agencies.”