Biden to designate a new national monument on tribal lands near the Grand Canyon

TUSAYAN — President Joe Biden will designate a new national monument north and south of Grand Canyon National Park on Tuesday to preserve Native American cultural sites and protect the region from new uranium mining, the administration confirmed.

The Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni-Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument protects thousands of sites that are sacred to the Havasupai, Hopi, Hualapai, Paiute, Navajo, Yavapai-Apache, Zuni and Colorado River Indian Tribes, the administration said. Its name comes from the Havasupai words baaj nwaavjo for “where Indigenous peoples roam,” and the Hopi words i’tah kukveny for “our ancestral footprints.”

“Native American history is American history,” U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said, and this monument will give tribal members a voice in managing lands where they and their ancestors have long lived, farmed and prayed.

“The president and this administration see Indian Country,” said Haaland, herself a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe. “I am speaking to you as the first Native American cabinet member as a testament to that. Feeling seen means being appreciated for who we are, the original stewards of our shared lands and waters.”

Biden arrived in Tusayan around 6:30 p.m. Monday, met by Reps. Raúl Grijalva and Ruben Gallego, both D-Ariz. The president plans to announce on Tuesday his creation of a monument to be managed under a co-stewardship system with tribes with deep connections to the canyon and region. Officials said a commission will be appointed to determine how co-stewardship will progress.

The monument will span 917,618 acres of federal forest and range lands, including the Marble Canyon area in the northeast, Kaibab National Forest lands south of Grand Canyon, and areas around the Kanab Creek drainage on the west side of the Kaibab Plateau.

The monument is slightly smaller than the 1.1 million-acre footprint that had been proposed. Administration officials said private and state inholdings within the monument will not be included.

The designation will make permanent the moratorium on new uranium claims in much of the acreage where President Barack Obama imposed it in 2012. It will protect existing livestock grazing leases and hunting, fishing and recreational access.

Biden will also use his northern Arizona visit to draw attention to a $44 million investment from the Inflation Reduction Act in climate resilience across the national parks system.

'A sacred place': Advocates for new Grand Canyon protections rally in hopes Biden will act

Monument will raise new debate over uranium mining

Dust blows across House Rock Valley, March 28, 2022, south of the Vermillion Cliffs, Arizona. This area would be in the new Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument.
Dust blows across House Rock Valley, March 28, 2022, south of the Vermillion Cliffs, Arizona. This area would be in the new Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument.

The new monument is already drawing critical reaction. Although it won't shut down valid existing mineral claims, including one at a uranium mine south of Tusayan called the Pinyon Plain Mine, the company operating that mine, Energy Fuels, Inc., said the administration’s opposition to uranium mining in the region harms America’s nuclear energy industry and the larger effort at creating carbon-free energy.

“These small, highly protective mines that contain lots of carbon-free energy should be celebrated, not vilified,” Energy Fuels spokesman Curtis Moore said. “We implore people to follow the science.”

Tribes, especially the Havasupai people whose reservation is in the Canyon and contains aquamarine springs that flow to the Colorado River, worry that uranium mining will contaminate their water and all life in the area. Havasupai Tribal Councilwoman Dianna Sue White Dove Uqualla said the whole region, from the Pinyon Plain Mine to Havasupai Falls and beyond, is sacred to the tribe.

The monument, with its inclusive management plan, is a critical nod to the wisdom of ancestors both Native and non-Native, she said. “It’s really something that has to be now,” she said. “It’s for all two-legged people on the world.”

The Grand Canyon has always been a place where tribes welcomed each other to practice their cultures and take spiritual medicine from the waters, Uqualla said. She praised the administration for tapping tribal knowledge of the area and said the collaborative stewardship will benefit all who love the Grand Canyon region. “It will help us all come together,” she said.

Havasupai officials invited Haaland to their reservation earlier this year for what the Interior secretary on Monday described as one of the most meaningful trips of her life.

“I hiked many majestic miles down to Supai Village,” Haaland said, “where I had the honor of visiting Havasupai Falls and experiencing the clear, blue-green waters that flow from the spring-fed streams. I witnessed the deep connection that the Havasupai people have with the land and the waters that have sustained them since time immemorial.”

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, center, with Havasupai Tribal Council members and the Guardians of the Grand Canyon during her visit to Supai on May 20, 2023.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, center, with Havasupai Tribal Council members and the Guardians of the Grand Canyon during her visit to Supai on May 20, 2023.

The question of whether current or historic uranium mining threatens those or other waters entering the Colorado River at the Grand Canyon is a matter of debate. Mining supporters point to U.S. Geological Survey analysis that did not find evidence of contamination, while opponents say there are insufficient test wells or data to determine where or when contaminated groundwater might surface.

History and culture: Indigenous people find legal, cultural barriers to protect sacred spaces off tribal lands

A history of presidents creating monuments

Biden’s Grand Canyon-area announcement echoes a similar but more politically contentious trip that then-President Bill Clinton made to the national park in 1996. That’s when Clinton, on the re-election trail, announced his creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah, in part to head off coal mining there.

Two decades later, then-President Barack Obama designated Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument, in part to protect Native American ancestral and sacred sites. Both of those monuments faced fierce opposition within Utah, and the Trump administration would later downsize them before Biden restored protections.

In March, Biden designated a monument in southern Nevada, Avi Kwa Ame, a desert mountain that Indigenous communities in Nevada, California and Arizona consider sacred.

Those exercises of a president’s Antiquity Act powers to preserve areas of cultural or scientific significance differed from this newest monument in that both Arizona senators support it. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Arizona, also has advocated for a Grand Canyon-area monument since the Obama administration, and on Monday he thanked the administration and others who made it happen.

“First and foremost, I want to extend my sincerest and most heartfelt gratitude to the tribes who have stood firm in their quest to make the Grand Canyon a beacon of conservation and cultural preservation, no matter the obstacle or threat,” Grijalva said in a written statement. “Standing alongside them on this journey has been one of the greatest honors of my life.”

Mohave County, which includes the new monument’s northwestern segment, opposed its creation and was scheduled to host Republican state lawmakers for a public hearing about it Monday evening. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Arizona, also opposed what he called a “land grab,” the same term used by the BlueRibbon Coalition, an organization that advocates for motorized recreation on public lands.

“This designation will weaken the American economy, it will weaken America geopolitically, and it will lock the American people out of their public lands,” BlueRibbon Coalition Executive Director Ben Burr said in a written statement.

After his Arizona appearance, Biden is scheduled to visit New Mexico and Utah, where he will discuss more of his administration’s environmental priorities and investments.

Brandon Loomis covers environmental and climate issues for The Arizona Republic and Reach him at or follow on Twitter @brandonloomis.

Environmental coverage on and in The Arizona Republic is supported by a grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. Follow The Republic's environmental reporting team at and @azcenvironment on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

You can support environmental journalism in Arizona by subscribing to today

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Biden plans national monument to buffer Grand Canyon National Park