WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden said this week he is ready to designate Avi Kwa Ame, a sacred site for Native American tribes in southern Nevada, as a national monument that would ensure the preservation of the ancestral lands of these 12 tribes.
“I am committed to protecting this sacred place that is central to the creation story of many tribes,” Biden said during the second Tribal Nations Summit at the White House.
It wasn’t an official designation, tribal leaders pointed out, the Nevada Current reported.
The announcement was made Wednesday at the US Department of the Interior, where the President also announced economic, climate and land management measures the government is taking to foster a strong federal relationship with the Indian country.
Spirit Mountain, called Avi Kwa Ame by the Mojave tribe, is considered sacred to 10 Yuman-speaking tribes and the Hopi and Chemehuevi-Paiute tribes as the area is the center of the Yuman tribe’s creation story and ancestral lands.
These Yuman speaking tribes are the Mojave, Hualapai, Yavapai, Havasupai, Quechan, Maricopa, Pai Pai, Halchidhoma, Cocopah and Kumeyaay.
Local leaders and tribes have petitioned for the land to become a national monument to ensure its protection.
“The Yuman tribes believe that the mountain is the spiritual birthplace of the tribes, the place where ancient ancestors came into this world,” the petition reads.
Biden added that he was looking forward to visiting the site in person and said he was planning an official presidential visit to the Indian country, but did not say when that would take place.
He thanked the Democratic members of the Nevada congressional delegation — Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, and Reps. Dina Titus, Susie Lee and Steven Horsford — for their part in lobbying for the designation of a national monument to Avi Kwa Ame.
In a statement, Cortez Masto said the land, sacred to a dozen tribes, is an “important habitat for a wide variety of wildlife, offers world-class outdoor recreation opportunities and contains some of the most breathtaking scenery in Nevada.”
“Across Nevada, this national monument enjoys widespread support and is an important part of our work to protect our environmental and cultural resources,” she said.
US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, the first Native American cabinet secretary, a former member of Congress from New Mexico and a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, outlined some of the commitments and investments the Biden administration has made in Indian land at the tribal summit.
She said her agency and the federal government are committed to addressing the intergenerational trauma in Indian country, ensuring Native American children can learn their ancestral languages in schools, and access to $13 billion in federal funding through the bipartisan Infrastructure Act grant dollars.
More than 13% of Indigenous households do not have access to water or sanitation, compared to less than 1% of US households. Many Native Americans depend on water trucks to be taken to reservations.
Haaland said she is pleased to be working with US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to ensure Native American youth have access to their culture and tribal language preservation.
“Our children deserve to inherit the knowledge that our ancestors wanted to pass on,” she said.
Haaland added that the Home Office has invested more than $45 billion in the Indian country from the American Rescue Plan, the bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and the Inflation Reduction Act.
“This agency, once charged with assimilating our people through family separation, is now leading the work to heal these broken promises and strengthen the Indian country,” she said.
Biden said he is proud of Haaland’s work at the agency and highlighted some initiatives the White House has introduced.
Some of those measures include a new memorandum that Biden is signing that would establish guidelines for all federal agencies regarding tribal consultations and increase tribal participation in the stewardship and stewardship of state lands and waters that matter to these communities. This agreement between the Department of the Interior and the US Department of Agriculture would be co-administration.
Biden added that other top priorities are climate resilience, as some tribes “could be washed away” due to climate change, and investigations into missing and murdered tribal women.
“It’s taken too long for us to recognize the spirit of friendship, responsibility and respect… and that’s the only way to move forward,” Biden said.
US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced initiatives the agency is taking to help the Indian country.
“We continue to make our programs and services more accessible and incorporate Indigenous viewpoints into program design and delivery,” Vilsack said in a statement.
The agency will establish a standing Tribal Advisory Committee to advise the USDA Secretary on issues important to tribal producers. Applications for this committee will be open in the coming weeks, Vilsack said.
The USDA works to improve broadband problems through the ReConnect program, which provides grants and loans to communities to build the infrastructure required for broadband to improve tribal access to high-speed Internet.
The agency will work with Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College in North Dakota to conduct research on integrating Western and Indigenous knowledge of native plants important to local tribes in the region.