Biden declares Grand Canyon National Monument to protect ancestral lands

Canyon National Monument

President Joe Biden announced on Tuesday the creation of a new national monument to protect nearly 1 million acres of land around the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona. The proclamation, which was issued during his visit to the state, fulfills a long-standing demand of Native American tribes and environmental groups who have sought to safeguard the area from uranium mining and other threats.

Canyon National Monument

A historic victory for tribal nations and conservationists

The new national monument, named Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni, which means “Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon” in the Havasupai and Hopi languages, encompasses about 1,562 square miles (4,046 square kilometers) of land just outside Grand Canyon National Park. The area is home to sacred sites, cultural resources, wildlife habitats, and scenic vistas that have been cherished by indigenous peoples for generations.

Biden said the designation was a recognition of the historical and spiritual significance of the land for the tribes, as well as a way to address past injustices and create a partnership between the federal government and the tribal nations in caring for the land.

“This is a sacred place for Native Americans who have lived here for thousands of years,” Biden said. “It’s also a stunning natural wonder that draws millions of visitors from around the world. And it’s a vital source of clean water for millions of Americans downstream.”

The president was joined by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American Cabinet secretary, who praised the proclamation as a milestone for Native American history and environmental justice.

“Today, we celebrate a historic victory for the tribal nations who have fought for decades to protect their ancestral homelands from uranium mining and other threats,” Haaland said. “This national monument will not only safeguard these lands for future generations, but also honor the hard work and perseverance of the Havasupai people who were driven out by the federal government in 1919 to form the Grand Canyon National Park.”

A ban on new mining leases and a co-stewardship model

The national monument will effectively ban any new uranium and other hard-rock mining leases in the area, which have been a source of controversy and litigation for years. The Obama administration imposed a 20-year moratorium on new mining claims in 2012, citing concerns over the risk of contaminating groundwater and surface water that feeds into the Colorado River. However, more than 3,000 mining leases that existed before 2012 will be allowed to continue under existing laws and regulations.

The Biden administration said that banning new mining leases would not affect national security or energy production, since only 1.3% of the known domestic uranium resources in the U.S. are located in the area. The administration also said that significant uranium resources can be found elsewhere in the country and abroad.

The national monument will also establish a co-stewardship model of management for the land, involving collaboration between the federal government and tribal leaders, as well as input from a commission of local and state stakeholders. The commission will advise on issues such as recreation, tourism, wildlife conservation, cultural preservation, and economic development.

The co-stewardship model is intended to foster respect and cooperation among different interests and perspectives, and to ensure that the land is managed in a way that reflects its diverse values and uses.

A fifth national monument for Biden

The Grand Canyon National Monument is the fifth national monument that Biden has created since taking office in January. The others are located in Illinois, Mississippi, Texas, Nevada, and Colorado. Biden has used his authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which allows presidents to designate national monuments on federal lands without congressional approval, to advance his agenda on climate change, racial justice, and public lands protection.

Biden’s use of the Antiquities Act has been applauded by environmentalists and tribal advocates, who see it as a powerful tool to conserve natural and cultural heritage. However, it has also been criticized by some Republican lawmakers and industry groups, who argue that it bypasses local input and infringes on private property rights.

Biden said he was proud of his record on national monuments, and vowed to continue working with Congress and stakeholders to protect more public lands in the future.

“We have an obligation to protect these places for our children and grandchildren,” Biden said. “And we have an opportunity to create jobs, boost tourism, and support local economies along the way.”

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