1 of 2 | President Joe Biden signed a proclamation Tuesday establishing a new monument near Arizona's Grand Canyon, protecting nearly 1 million acres of public land which some Native American tribes consider sacred grounds. Photo courtesy of The White House
Aug. 8 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden signed a proclamation Tuesday near Arizona's Grand Canyon, establishing a new monument and "preserving the majesty" to protect nearly 1 million acres of public land that some Native American tribes consider sacred grounds.
Biden signed the proclamation -- which details the 917,618 acres, its history, and the land's new protections -- at 2 p.m. EDT to establish the Baaj Nwaavjo I'tah Kkveni -- Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument in Arizona. It marks the fifth new national monument established by Biden.
"Today I'm proud to use my authority and Antiquities Act to protect almost one million acres of public land around Grand Canyon National Park as a new national monument," Biden told a crowd in Arizona's Coconino County on Tuesday, as he signed the proclamation.
"America's natural wonders are our nation's heart and soul. They unite us. They inspire us, a birthright to be passed down from generation to generation," Biden said, before touching on the history of tribal nations near the Grand Canyon.
"Some 100 years ago, they were forced out. The very act of preserving the Grand Canyon as a national park was used to deny indigenous people full access to their homeland," Biden said. "To honor the solemn promises the United States made to tribal nations to fulfill federal trust and treaty obligations, I pledge to keep using all of that available authority to protect sacred tribal land."
The monument "honors tribal nations and Indigenous peoples by protecting sacred ancestral places and their historically and scientifically important features, while conserving our public lands, protecting wildlife habitat and clean water and supporting local economies," the White House explained earlier Tuesday in a statement.
"There's no national treasure, none that is grander than the Grand Canyon," Biden exclaimed in his speech. "The Grand Canyon is one of the Earth's nine wonders of the world," he added, before later correcting himself to say "seven wonders of the world."
"I made a commitment that we will protect 30% of all our nation's lands and waters, conserve all 30% of all our nation's lands and waters by 2030," Biden said. "And we're on our way."
In addition to preserving the land, the proclamation will also prohibit new uranium mining claims. Some local Mohave County leaders support protecting the land but opposed the ban on mining, citing the $29 billion worth of uranium deposits it holds.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American to serve in the Cabinet, said the decision to create the monument honors the work of Havasupai leaders to preserve their ancestral homelands after they were driven out by the federal government in 1919 to create Grand Canyon National Park.
"These special places are not a pass-through on the way to the Grand Canyon. They are sacred and significant unto their own right," she told reporters in a Monday video call. "We are in a new era, one in which we honor tribally led conservation, advance co-stewardship and care about the well-being of Native American people."
Some Utah ranchers, who use the land for grazing, have also voiced opposition to the designation.
The lands protected by the designation span plateaus, canyons and creeks that flow into the Colorado River, providing water to millions throughout the Southwest and include thousands of cultural sites considered sacred to more than a dozen tribal nations in the Southwest, including the Gray Mountain, which is featured in Navajo ceremonial songs, stories and rituals.
The area also boasts biodiversity ranging from sagebrush to savanna that hosts a range of species such as bighorn sheep, mule deer, bison, peregrine falcons, bald eagles, owls and songbirds.
The site's name is derived from the phrase "Baaj Nwaavjo," which means "where Indigenous people roam" in the Havasuapi language, while "i'tah kukveni" means "our ancestral footprints" in the Hopi language, honoring a pair of the tribes native to the Grand Canyon.
"They are the historic home of 3,000 cultural sites, cliff houses, cave paintings, ancient spots that help us understand the history of these civilizations. They are also key to building resilience to drought and climate change," Biden said as he pointed out the extreme heat plaguing Arizona and national parks.
Biden also announced $44 million to strengthen climate resilience across the country's national parks system, including 43 projects across 39 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
"These are investments in our planet, our people and America, itself," Biden said before blasting Republicans and the previous administration for fighting his clean energy funding.
"America's natural wonders are central to our heritage and our identity as a nation. Conserving them not only protects the livelihoods of the people who depend on them, it preserves key pieces of our history, of the full American story for generations to come," Biden said.
"Today's action is going to protect and preserve that history along with these high plateaus and deep canyons, majestic red cliffs over 300 million years old," the president added. "Today marks an historic step in preserving the majesty of this place."