Biden makes Grand Canyon monument designation, citing Arizona tribal heritage, climate concerns

By Al Macias
Associated Press
Published: Tuesday, August 8, 2023 - 1:41pm
Updated: Wednesday, August 9, 2023 - 7:55am

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Coverage of tribal natural resources is supported in part by Catena Foundation

President Joe Biden
Al Macias
President Joe Biden speaks before signing a proclamation designating the Baaj Nwaavjo I'Tah Kukveni National Monument at the Red Butte Airfield on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023, in Tusayan, Arizona.

Declaring it good “not only for Arizona but for the planet,” President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed a national monument designation for the greater Grand Canyon, turning the decades-long visions of Native American tribes and environmentalists into reality.

Tribes in Arizona have been pushing the president to use his authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to create a new national monument called Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni. “Baaj Nwaavjo” means "where tribes roam," for the Havasupai people, while “I’tah Kukveni” translates to “our footprints,” for the Hopi tribe.

→ Cattle ranchers in uproar over Biden's new Grand Canyon national monument announcement

Thomas Siyuja, chairman of the Havasupai Tribe, said the president’s remarks at the historic Red Butte Airfield — just a few miles south of the Grand Canyon — was cause for celebration.

“We’ve been fighting and fighting, and even though we were kind of defeated, we never gave up,” Siyuja said. “We continued to fight, we pushed forward.”

Raúl Grijalva speaks near the Grand Canyon
Al Macias
Raúl Grijalva speaks near the Grand Canyon at the national monument designation ceremony on Aug. 8, 2023.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American cabinet secretary, said the national monument designation marks a new era of collaboration and stewardship between tribal communities and the U.S. government.

Arizona Congressman Raúl Grijalva said that means tribes will finally have a say on lands they call home.

“The ancestral lands are not forgotten fantasies, but realities right across from us," Grijalva said. "And the role of Indigenous people in the tribes will be of significance and not window dressing.”

→ Arizona Republicans rally around Trump to undo Biden's Grand Canyon national monument designation

Biden said the new designation was emblematic of his administration fulfilling long standing promises to Native American tribes.

Many were forced from their ancestral homes in decades past — in his remarks, Biden noted that the very act of preserving the Grand Canyon as a national park had denied Indigenous people full access to land they hold sacred.

Havasupai tribal members in ceremonial garments.
Al Macias
Havasupai tribal members in ceremonial garments after the Grand Canyon monument designation ceremony on Aug. 8, 2023.

"At a time when some seek to ban books and bury history, we’re making it clear that we can’t just choose to learn what we want to know," Biden said. "We should learn everything that’s good, bad and the truth of who we are as a nation. That’s what great nations do, and we’re the greatest of all nations.”

Some, however, argued Biden’s designation has weakened the nation.

Republicans lawmakers and the mining industry have touted the area’s economic benefits, and argued that mining is a matter of national security.

The U.S. is heavily reliant on Russia for nuclear fuel. And the area Biden designated as a national monument is rich in uranium deposits.

Senior Biden administration officials say that existing mining claims will not be affected. Arizona GOP lawmakers like state Rep. Barbara Parker weren’t convinced.

Kyrsten Sinema standing at podium
Al Macias
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona speaks at the designation ceremony for the new Grand Canyon national monument on Aug. 8, 2023.

"Arizona is the second-largest mining state in the nation," Parker said. "This is nothing more than going to weaken the strength of Arizona and all that we do."

At an emergency legislative hearing in Kingman on Monday evening, Mohave County Supervisor Travis Lingenfelter said tribal concerns that uranium mining would damage their sacred land are overblown.

“What they’re citing is back in the 1940s and 1950s, way over on the Navajo Nation in Coconino County, there were some uranium mines that were not mitigated properly. The EPA had to get involved," Lingenfelter said. "That was in the ‘40s and the ‘50s — it is not 2023."

Biden and tribal leaders say the national monument designation aims to make sure the mistakes of the last century are not repeated.

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