Growing support for national monument designation of Avi Kwa Ame has brought together Nevada tribes, rural towns, business leaders, and conservationists. (Photo courtesy of Justin McAffee)
Nevada Democratic U.S. Rep. Dina Titus introduced a bill designating land considered sacred to ten tribes as a national monument Thursday, fulfilling a commitment she made last month.
Tribes and environmentalists hailed the move that would permanently protect nearly 450,000 acres of biologically and culturally significant lands within the Mojave Desert as a breakthrough on a proposal two years in the making.
“I’m grateful to the grassroots organizations and community leaders who have been working on this issue for years. Together we can protect these sloping bajadas, scenic canyons, and ancient cultural sites for future generations to enjoy,” said Titus in a statement.
The final boundaries of the proposed monument, to be called Avi Kwa Ame, were a result of cooperation between a coalition of tribes, local communities and leaders, and conservationists to secure an agreement from communities across the state.
“The Fort Mojave Indian Tribe thanks Congresswoman Titus for her leadership and actions to get this monument proposal across the finish line,” said Timothy Williams, Chairman of the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe in a statement.
For decades, the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe has worked to preserve the Avi Kwa Ame site and protect thousands of acres of culturally significant land that contain artifacts and ancient petroglyphs by the vally’s original peoples.
“Avi Kwa Ame is a cultural landscape that is the center of creation for Mojave people, and this heritage is passed down from generation to generation through oral history, song, ritual, and religious practices which we continue to this day. Avi Kwa Ame means something deeper to us than anything else in our livelihoods will ever mean. It lives within our heart, it is in our souls,” Williams said.
After a long legal battle, the tribe was able to get Avi Kwa Ame listed on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places as a traditional cultural property in 1999, but further federal protection is needed, Williams said.
The bill’s introduction comes after the Clark County Commission unanimously voted on a resolution earlier this week to formally support Nevada’s fourth national monument after two days of testimony.
“We’ve heard over the last couple weeks here in Clark County from those who are impacted and I was really proud to have earned the unanimous support from my colleagues on the Clark County Commission,” said Commissioner Michael Naft during a press conference Wednesday.
There are two ways national monuments can be designated: either by Congress through legislation or by the president through the Antiquities Act.
So far, the bill does not have any co-sponsors but Rep. Susie Lee has publicly joined calls to make Avi Kwa Ame a national monument. In an interview last month, Titus said she believes Lee and Rep. Steven Horsford, both fellow Democrats, will sign onto her legislation.
For two years, a coalition of diverse groups have built a powerful public campaign to permanently protect the area after energy developers renewed efforts to build wind farms on the land.
Public pressure and grassroot energy has been a winning strategy for the coalition.
In a recent survey commissioned by the League of Conservation Voters, three in five (60%) of registered voters support designating Avi Kwa Ame as a national monument, while only 10% say they oppose the plan. Once voters were provided information about the site, support increased to 70%, nearly half saying they “strongly support” the idea.
Supporters of the national monument also point to the survey’s results showing that voters largely support federal action to protect public land.
About four in five (79%) Nevada voters believe elected officials should protect desert landscapes, mountains and valleys, recreation areas, and other outdoor spaces to ensure that they are not sold off to private corporations, according to the survey. Voters also believe the federal government should protect places sacred to Indigenous people and tribes (70% say this is extremely or very important).
Several tribes support the national monument designation. Avi Kwa Ame is considered culturally significant and sacred by ten Yuman-speaking tribes across the Colorado River Basin, including the Mojave, Hualapai, Yavapai, Havasupai, Quechan, Maricopa, Pai Pai, Halchidhoma, Cocopah and Kumeyaay.
In Nevada, the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, the Moapa Band of Paiutes, the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, and the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada have all passed resolutions to support the creation of the monument.
Smaller towns in Clark County that border the proposed project have also signaled strong support for the creation of the national monument. The Boulder City Council, the Searchlight Town Advisory Board, and the Laughlin Town Advisory Board have all approved resolutions in support of the designation.
“Outdoor recreation is a critical source of economic activity for Boulder City and its residents. Protecting Avi Kwa Ame will not only bolster our local economy but will continue Boulder City’s great tradition of protecting the unique desert landscapes that we love,” said Boulder City Councilman James Adams in a statement.
Williams, chair of the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, said the broad diversity of the coalition pushing for the designation has been a major factor in the growing momentum to create the national monument.
“We have a unified purpose for this and it’s to protect our lands that are out there,” Williams said during a press conference Wednesday.
Jackie Wallin, President of the Laughlin Chamber of Commerce, said formal protections for the sacred lands is long overdue, adding that the national monument will have a positive long lasting impact on surrounding towns.
“Laughlin has grown as a regional leader in the outdoor recreation economy. The national monument would complete efforts that we are already spearheading,” Wallin said.
Before the pandemic, the outdoor recreation economy was one of the fastest-growing sectors in Nevada, generating $12.6 billion in consumer spending and 60,000 jobs, $4 billion in wages and salaries, and $1.1 billion in state and local tax revenue, according to the Nevada Division of Outdoor Recreation.
However, outdoor businesses suffered after restrictions and health fears slowed down tourism. Businesses in outdoor gateway communities, like Boulder City, suffered most from drops in tourism. The monument would run alongside the California border, and Nevada border towns are hoping to recover from the economic hits brought by the pandemic.
“We know from multiple studies that national monuments not only help nearby communities diversify economically, but also increase the quality of life and recreational opportunities, making communities more attractive for new residents, businesses, and investment,” Wallin said.
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