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Tribes hope Biden’s Arizona visit means long-sought Grand Canyon monument designation

by Sophia Chen
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national monument

Advocates seeking restrictions on mining near Grand Canyon National Park are optimistic about the possibility of the establishment of a new national monument that would preserve the area for generations to come. President Joe Biden’s visit to the region on Tuesday is anticipated to include an announcement of plans for a new national monument, encompassing roughly 1,562 square miles (4,046 square kilometers).

Various tribal representatives from northern Arizona have been invited to join the president’s speech, such as Amelia Flores of the Colorado River Indian Tribes, Navajo President Buu Nygren, and Havasupai Tribal Councilwoman Dianna Sue White Dove Uqualla. Uqualla, who will be part of a blessing performance, expressed concern about uranium extraction, emphasizing its detrimental impact on the environment.

For years, Arizona tribes have been urging the president to create a new national monument called Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni, meaning “where tribes roam” for the Havasupai people and “our footprints” for the Hopi tribe. Despite efforts to protect the land and a 20-year moratorium on new mining claims enacted in 2012, the tension between conservationists and those emphasizing the economic importance of mining has persisted.

A study conducted in 2021 confirmed that most water sources in northern Arizona met federal drinking water standards, despite decades of uranium mining. Although President Barack Obama considered creating a monument in 2017, he faced strong opposition from Republican figures in the state.

Critics of the monument’s establishment argue that it would not address ongoing drought concerns and could hinder efforts to manage forests and wildlife populations. Ranchers near the Arizona-Utah border also worry about losing privately owned land.

Arizona’s political landscape has since evolved, with key Democratic and Independent figures supporting the monument designation. Governor Katie Hobbs has actively encouraged President Biden to proceed with the designation, and a letter she sent in May cited widespread support.

Despite this, opposition remains, especially from mining companies and areas that stand to gain economically from mining. Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson has expressed that the monument proposal seems politically motivated and questions the decision to avoid tapping into uranium as it relates to national security.

While no uranium mines are currently operational in Arizona, potential development remains in specific areas. The federal government has stated that nearly a dozen mines might still open within the withdrawn area, as long as their claims were established before 2012.

Following his visit to Arizona, President Biden’s schedule includes stops in Albuquerque to discuss climate change-related job creation, Salt Lake City to mark the first anniversary of the PACT Act providing benefits to veterans exposed to toxic substances, and fundraising events in both cities.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about national monument

Q: What is the purpose of President Biden’s visit to Arizona?

A: President Biden’s visit to Arizona is expected to include an announcement of plans for a new national monument, aiming to preserve approximately 1,562 square miles of land around Grand Canyon National Park.

Q: Why are representatives from northern Arizona tribes attending the president’s remarks?

A: Representatives from various northern Arizona tribes, including the Colorado River Indian Tribes, Navajo Nation, and Havasupai Tribe, have been invited to attend President Biden’s remarks to highlight their advocacy for limiting mining around the Grand Canyon and preserving the land for future generations.

Q: What is the proposed name of the new national monument sought by the tribes?

A: The proposed name for the new national monument is “Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni,” which translates to “where tribes roam” for the Havasupai people and “our footprints” for the Hopi tribe.

Q: What are the opposing viewpoints on the creation of a national monument?

A: While advocates and tribes support the monument designation for environmental conservation, opponents, including mining companies and some political figures, emphasize the economic benefits of mining and concerns about forest management and private land rights.

Q: Has the federal government taken any measures to address mining concerns around the Grand Canyon?

A: Yes, in 2012, the Interior Department enacted a 20-year moratorium on new mining claims around the national park to address concerns over the risk of contaminating water sources.

Q: What is the historical context of previous attempts to create a national monument in the area?

A: In 2017, then-President Barack Obama considered a monument designation but faced opposition from Arizona’s Republican governor and senators, leading to a decision not to proceed with the designation.

Q: How has the political landscape in Arizona changed regarding the monument designation?

A: The political landscape has evolved, with key Democratic figures, including Governor Katie Hobbs and Senators Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema, supporting the monument designation.

Q: What are the concerns raised by opponents of the national monument designation?

A: Opponents argue that a monument designation may not address ongoing drought concerns, hinder forest thinning efforts, and impact hunters and ranchers by potentially affecting privately owned land.

Q: Are there any operational uranium mines in Arizona currently?

A: No, there are no uranium mines currently operational in Arizona, though there are potential development plans for certain areas, and existing claims may still be allowed to proceed.

Q: What are the other destinations on President Biden’s itinerary after Arizona?

A: Following the Arizona visit, President Biden will visit Albuquerque to discuss climate change-related job creation and Salt Lake City to mark the first anniversary of the PACT Act, which benefits veterans exposed to toxic substances. He will also hold fundraising events in both cities.

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