Biden moves Avi Kwa Ame a step closer to monument status

By: - November 30, 2022 1:04 pm

The move announced Wednesday was part of a series of commitments made by the Biden administration to strengthen relationships and consultation between the federal government and First Nations. (Photo courtesy Justin McAffee)

President Joe Biden on Wednesday pledged to designate Avi Kwa Ame in southern Nevada as the state’s fourth national monument.

The move was part of a series of commitments made by the Biden administration to strengthen relationships and consultation between the federal government and First Nations.

“There’s so much more that we’re going to do to protect the treasured tribal lands,” Biden said during the White House Tribal Nations Summit in Washington. “I’m committed to protecting this sacred place that’s central to the creation story of so many tribes here today.”

Tribes and environmentalists hailed the announcement that would permanently protect nearly 450,000 acres of biologically and culturally significant lands within the Mojave Desert as a breakthrough for a campaign two years in the making.

An unlikely coalition of local governments, tribes, conservation groups, recreation enthusiasts, and business groups secured an agreement from communities across the state to establish the final boundaries of the proposed monument.

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 left by the valley’s original peoples. 

For the Fort Mojave and 11 other tribes, the area is deeply connected to their spiritual ideology and is featured in Mojave creation beliefs. In 2019, the Fort Mojave Indian Council voted unanimously to formally support the protection of the Avi Kwa Ame.

“Avi Kwa Ame is a unique cultural landscape that is the center of creation for Mojave people and we are grateful it will remain protected. Knowing our future generations will have the freedom to continue our cultural and religious practices as we have since time immemorial is both a model of inclusivity and a promise to honor the strength of Nevada’s diversity,” said Timothy Williams, Fort Mojave Indian Tribal Chairman in a statement.

The Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada also adopted resolutions in 2021 supporting the monument, and last year the Moapa Band of Paiutes in Nevada sent a letter of support for the monument to Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto.

Biden’s announcement stopped short Wednesday of officially designating Avi Kwa Ame as a national monument, a fact Native American advocates pointed out. 

“This land is considered sacred to Tribes who trace their creation story to this land and it deserves to be protected,” said Taylor Patterson, the executive director of Native Voters Alliance Nevada, Wednesday. “We ask that the Biden Administration now keep its promise to tribal nations and designate Avi Kwa Ame immediately. We have been disappointed by broken promises from the federal government before. We expect the Biden Administration to keep its promise and move this designation forward immediately.”

After a long legal battle, the Fort Mojave Indian 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 protections for the area from development are still weak.

In recent years the culturally significant area has been threatened by development, including proposed wind farms and growing neighboring towns. But a national monument designation for Avi Kwa Ame would permanently protect nearly 400,000 acres south of Las Vegas from large-scale development. 

More than 80% of the land within the proposed monument is already federally protected as critical habitat. However, the designation would connect existing protected landscapes from the East Mojave Desert to the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and strengthen protections to the area.

In February, Nevada Rep. Dina Titus, whose congressional district includes the monument site, introduced legislation to designate Ave Kwa Ame as a national monument, giving the biologically diverse and culturally significant area permanent protections.

“Avi Kwa Ame’s story is one of perseverance and passion,” Titus said in a statement Wednesday. “I am pleased that President Biden has listened to Southern Nevada stakeholders, including indigenous leaders, environmentalists, and outdoor recreationalists to protect this sacred land.

“Land conservation is a core value in Nevada. Voters across the political spectrum in the Silver State have consistently indicated that protecting public lands is important to them. I am not surprised that our broad coalition achieved the goal of permanently protecting Spirit Mountain and the surrounding Mojave Desert region,” Titus added.

Smaller towns in Clark County that would border the proposed project have signaled strong support for the creation of the national monument. Last year, the Boulder City Council unanimously approved a resolution in support of the proposed monument and the preservation of the area from future development.

Business groups in surrounding towns have also pushed for the establishment of the national monument. Business leaders say the monument would bring outdoor recreation and tourism to rural towns’ economies, including the CEO and president of the Boulder City Chamber of Commerce and the Laughlin Chamber of Commerce.

Cortez Masto also expressed support for the announcement, adding that the national monument has widespread support and is part of the state’s work to protect environmental and cultural resources.

“I look forward to celebrating the official designation of Nevada’s next National Monument,” Cortez Masto said in a statement.

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Jeniffer Solis
Jeniffer Solis

Jeniffer was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada where she attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas before graduating in 2017 with a B.A in Journalism and Media Studies.