Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

August 9, 2023

Honoring Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni, Grand Canyon National Monument

Grand Canyon Condors by Jim Dublinski

Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition Celebrates Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni, Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument Designation

Article by Brenda Norrell
Information contact: Carletta Tilousi, Coordinator
Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition,
Statements courtesy Anna Peterson, Conservation Communications
Censored News, August 8, 2023

RED BUTTE, Arizona -- The creation of the new Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni, Grand Canyon National Monument, will halt new uranium mining in the area. Regardless of the United States' assertion of land ownership, this land has been the homeland of Native people since time immemorial.

Native leaders spoke of their ancestors and said this is their going home place.

Havasupai Chairman Thomas Siyuja Sr., said, "The Havasupai Nation celebrates this historic moment in time, but we also pause for a moment to honor our tribal ancestors who started this journey long ago."

"Many Havasupai tribal leaders have carried this battle on their shoulders over the decades and we are the fortunate ones to experience this unprecedented time in which our historic lands, water, sacred objects, and sites now hold the power and protection, which they rightfully deserve, under the supreme law of the land by the stroke of President Biden’s pen. President Biden’s action today will solidify our Tribe’s existence on, under, and over this land forever."

"Although there is still more work to do, we will sleep easier tonight knowing that our water, sacred sites, and plant medicines are more protected and that our ancestors’ tears are finally tears of happiness," Chairman Syuja said.

Biden used the Antiquities Act to create the monument and signed the proclamation at the Havasupai sacred place of Red Butte on Tuesday. The monument lands span the Grand Canyon’s North and South rims and will be co-managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management along with a tribal commission.

Grand Canyon by Jim Dublinski

The Hopi Nation said, "Life continues here at Baaj Nwaavjo I'tah Kukveni. Hopi would like to recognize all those in support of protecting itah tutskwa (ancestral land) and preserving sacred places. Hisat Sinom (ancestors) have left us connected to songs, dances, and ceremonies since time immemorial. As stewards of the land we will continue to safeguard the future for generations to come.”

The Pueblo of Zuni said, “The Grand Canyon is the place of emergence of the A:shiwi (Zuni People). Since time immemorial we have maintained deep religious and cultural ties to Kuh’nin Akkwenne (Grand Canyon), shaping generations of A:shiwi identity and sense of belonging within our cultural landscape. The fingerprints of our ancestors are evident in Kuh’nin Akkwenne, from the petroglyphs etched onto the rock to the old homes where they lived."

"Today, we continue to revere this sacred site through song, prayer, and pilgrimage, thereby ensuring Kuh’nin Akkwenne’s continued significance to our people. Through the designation of the Grand Canyon as a national monument, we continue in our ancestors' footsteps of stewardship responsibilities of this important area, from protecting the lowliest of insects to the humans that rely on the life-giving waters," Zuni Pueblo said.

Corrina Bow, Chairwoman for the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah said, "The Grand Canyon is our ancestral lands. It is where we come from and when the Creator calls us home this is where we will go. My grandpa, the late Edrick Bushhead of the Shivwits Band often talked about the Grand Canyon and the spiritual connection between the Southern Paiutes and the land."

"He told stories about the sacred ceremonies that took place here, the hunts, the gathering of medicinal plants, and the Indigenous people who lived on the land. He said this land has spiritual importance to our people and if you are lost or confused this is the place to pray, meditate, sing songs and talk to the land. It will help keep you balanced and in harmony. Thank you, President Biden for listening to the voices of our indigenous people and finally protecting our ancestral homeland. Thanks to everyone who worked diligently to bring this to light. Our land will now be preserved, and our sacred areas and sites protected. Ai Yuk, Thank you.”

Amelia Flores, Chairwoman for the Colorado River Indian Tribe said, "The Colorado River Indian Tribes has a timeless religious and deep economic connection to the Colorado River, which is inextricably connected to the lands of the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni -- Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument. We thank President Biden and his administration for taking this vital step forward to protect the health of the Colorado River, the surrounding lands, and the irreplaceable cultural resources. This designation honors the tribal connections to the surrounding lands and the value of tribal stewardship in protecting the waters that flow through the Grand Canyon down to our reservation.”

Greg Anderson, Chairman for the Moapa Band of Paiutes said, "This is a great day today witnessing our Tribal Nations coming together in the protection and unity of our voices, speaking on behalf of our traditional ancestral homelands of the Grand Canyon; our Holy Lands.”

Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren said, "The Grand Canyon is too important to not protect. And yet there are hundreds of mining claims, and several active uranium mines in the proposed monument area that threaten to poison the landscape and destroy this sacred land. We know from firsthand experience the damage that can be caused by yellow dirt contaminating our water and poisoning our animals and our children. We are thankful to President Biden and the Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition for their efforts in pushing this initiative to protect our people from the adverse effects of uranium mining.”

Red Butte Sunrise Ed Moss

Grand Canyon by Jim Dublinski

Johnny Lehi Jr., President of the San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe said, "The San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe is honored and grateful that President Biden has chosen to listen to tribes and designate our homelands as a national monument. We have been here for centuries, and are pleased to now have these sacred sites and waters protected today and into the future.”

Hope Silvas, Chairwoman for the Shivwits Band of Paiutes said, "Ai’uck (Thank You) President Biden, Secretary Haaland and Secretary Vilsack…..for hearing our voices on the importance of protecting and preserving our ancestral homelands and for supporting our tribal efforts to designate the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni as a National Monument.”

Deryn Pete, Las Vegas Paiute Chairwoman said, "The Las Vegas Paiute Tribe is very pleased to witness the ongoing efforts to protect sacred ancestral Tribal homelands. We celebrate, with all of Indian Country, this significant development in recognition of the importance of Native history.”

“The Yavapai-Apache Nation joins with the Tribes represented by the Grand Canyon Tribal Leaders Coalition, and with all Arizona Tribes, in calling on the Administration to protect the spiritual, cultural, and historical connection of the Tribes to the lands of the proposed Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni - Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument," said Tanya Lewis, Chairwoman for the Yavapai-Apache Nation.

Havasu Creek by Mike Popejoy

The 13-member Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition has led the most recent monument push to protect the region from uranium mining which threatens to contaminate the area’s groundwater and ecosystem and endanger sacred places.

The Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition said, "We are representatives of Tribes with deep and timeless connections to the lands of Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni - Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument. We trace our ancestry here, and many of our ancestors are buried here. We have stewarded these lands since time immemorial and we are still here."

Biden signing declaration on Tuesday

"The Grand Canyon region is sacred to each of us; it is a place where we see and understand our history. It is vital to our future as an eternal home and source of spiritual sustenance. Although many of our people were unjustly removed from these lands, our connections to this place and our responsibility to protect it remain strong," the Coalition said.

"Many of us have worked for decades to safeguard our Grand Canyon homelands from desecration at the hands of extractive, harmful operations like uranium mining, and today, with the designation of Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni - Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument, we see these lands permanently protected at last."

"We thank the president for listening to our voices and protecting our homelands, now and forever into the future, for all our children and grandchildren."

The Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition includes the Havasupai Tribe, Hopi Tribe, Hualapai Tribe, Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians, Las Vegas Tribe of Paiutes, Moapa Band of Paiute Indians, Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, Shivwits Band of Paiutes, Navajo Nation, San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe, Yavapai-Apache Nation, Zuni Tribe, and Colorado River Indian Tribes.

Clark Tenakhongva, Arizona Trail Association board member and former Vice Chairman of the Hopi Nation said, “As stewards of the land, it’s our duty to make sure we protect the land, first and foremost. This national monument is good for Hopi, the Arizona Trail, Arizona, America, and Planet Earth."

Ethan Aumack, executive director, of Grand Canyon Trust, said, "Today’s news has been years in the making. Congratulations to the Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition on this profoundly important, hard-earned day of celebration. We look forward to their collaborative management of the new Baaj Nwaavjo I'tah Kukveni - Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument."

Taylor McKinnon, Southwest director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said this historic designation permanently safeguards the magnificent rimlands that flank the Grand Canyon, their rich biodiversity, and life-giving springs and aquifers. On behalf of our members and supporters, the Center for Biological Diversity extends our deepest gratitude to Havasupai, Hopi, Navajo, and other Tribal leaders who have sought land protections for generations, and to the president for heeding their wisdom and leadership.”

"President Biden used the Antiquities Act today to designate the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument in northern Arizona, permanently protecting nearly 1 million acres of public land surrounding the iconic national park. Proposed to the Biden administration by the Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition, Baaj Nwaavjo means 'where tribes roam' for the Havasupai Tribe, and I’tah Kukveni means 'our ancestral footprints' in Hopi," the Center for Biological Diversity said.

Blaine Miller-McFeeley, Earthjustice senior legislative representative said, “This is a historic moment for the Tribes that hold such deep cultural connections to the lands surrounding the Grand Canyon and every American who will now be able to enjoy this region in perpetuity."

"Not only does this designation protect the vast cultural and natural resources significant to the Tribes, it also protects the threatened Colorado River watershed and its abundant biodiversity. More than two-thirds of Arizonans have supported a ban on uranium mining around the Grand Canyon – this designation gives the people exactly what they have asked for."

"The Grand Canyon is one of the most majestic places on Earth and we are thrilled that it will remain that way," McFeeley said.

Sierra Club statement:

Sandy Bahr, director for the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter - "Sierra Club thanks President Biden for hearing and responding to the Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition’s request to establish the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni - Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument. The designation of this monument will safeguard traditional use, regional groundwater and critical springs, and important cultural areas, such as the Red Butte Traditional Cultural Property, from harmful development and toxic uranium mining, making permanent a ban on mining that was enacted administratively in 2012. Today’s proclamation is supported by Tribes, businesses, local community leaders, environmental protection advocates, faith leaders, hunters and anglers, and many more. President Biden has taken a historic step to safeguard the greater Grand Canyon region and to ensure that the Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition has a leadership role in the management of these lands going forward as they continue their stewardship roles, which have been in place since time immemorial."

Alicyn Gitlin, program manager for the Grand Canyon Chapter’s Restore and Protect Grand Canyon Campaign - "We’re thrilled to see today’s action by the President and in addition to thanking him, we want to send our heartfelt thanks to the Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition for their leadership in advancing this important action. The Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni - Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument will help protect the region’s waters, including the Kanab Creek drainage, from harmful uranium mining and limit development that destroys important values of the area, including protection of key wildlife habitat and corridors that connect the region and old growth ponderosa pines in the southern portion of the monument.”
The Conservation Alliance

The Wilderness Society

Jamie Williams, President of The Wilderness Society - “President Biden's designation of Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni - Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument underscores his administration's commitment to cultural preservation and safeguarding the greater Grand Canyon region’s clean air and water sources. It also connects these larger landscapes that provide critical habitat for wildlife like California condors, black bears, elk, and mule deer, as they navigate the increasing challenges of climate change and habitat impacts. The extraordinary beauty and ecological importance of the ancient and storied landscapes surrounding this natural wonder will now be permanently protected, ensuring that its legacy will live on for future generations.”

Photos provided by Jim Dublinski, Xplore Outside

Jim Dublinski, Owner of Xplore - “As a business that values both the beauty of this land and its indigenous significance, we express our gratitude for the creation of the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni - Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon Monument. This monument protects this iconic landscape, aquifers, wildlife, and cultural values essential to the greater Grand Canyon Region. Thank you, President Biden, for taking counsel with tribal leadership to preserve the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni - Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon Monument.”

Wild Arizona

Kelly Burke, Executive Director of Wild Arizona - "This is a huge success--a legacy for those tribal leaders, communities and organizations who have worked for at least 20 years to protect these magnificent rimlands of the Grand Canyon. We applaud this new Monument as a key component in protecting a highly-threatened cultural and biological link in Arizona's landscape and we wholeheartedly thank President Biden and the Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition for the leadership expressed by today’s action. Arizona's essential webs of life, including our natural waters, wildlife pathways and the fabric of Tribal cultures are the big winners in this designation.”

Statements courtesy of Anna Peterson, Conservation Communications
Durango, Colorado

About Censored News

Censored News was created in 2006 when staff writer Brenda Norrell was censored and terminated as a long-time staff writer at Indian Country Today, after it was sold to new owners. Today, Censored News is a collective, with 22 million page views. It has no ads, salaries or revenues. It is a service to Indigenous Peoples and human rights.
Brenda Norrell began as a news reporter at the Navajo Times during the 18 years that she lived on the Navajo Nation. She was a correspondent for Associated Press, USA Today and Lakota Times during the past 40 years as a reporter in Indian country. She has a master's degree in international health.

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