Biden’s Grand Canyon memorial met with critics and supporters of the Utahns

America’s newest national monument may be in Arizona, but critics argue that the Biden administration fell out of line and lost touch with the monument’s construction without first consulting with Utah residents, who will be hardest hit.

During his visit to historic Red Butte Airfield Tuesday, a few miles south of the Grand Canyon, President Joe Biden designated over 917,000 acres of federal forest and rangeland in northern Arizona as Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Traces of the Grand Canyon National Monument.

Located on the Arizona Strip, the memorial is designed to protect the Grand Canyon from further uranium mining, which Native Americans say would destroy many of their ancestral sacred sites, leach into aquifers and endanger water supplies. Its creation makes a permanent ban on the 20-year moratorium President Barack Obama imposed in 2012 on new uranium deposits in the region.

Biden’s announcement drew strong condemnation from state and southern Utah officials, who called the new memorial another example of federal abuse and backstabbing.

Another deja vu

For some, the announcement caused a sense of deja vu. On September 18, 1996, then-President Bill Clinton visited the southern rim of Grand Canyon National Park and announced the creation of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument on 1.7 million acres in southern Utah.

Like Clinton and other presidents before him, Biden used his authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to construct Arizona’s new national monument. That angers Utah State Representative Phil Lyman, whose legislative district includes much of southern Utah, including San Juan and Kane counties.

“This is a complete abuse of the Antiquities Act,” he said. “The law was never intended to be a landscape-wide management tool, and it is [the federal government] uses it as… [Congress] must root out this ridiculous abuse of power.”

Although the monument is located entirely in Arizona, its proximity to Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument and Washington and Kane counties has drawn the ire of local officials, who argue it will negatively impact ranchers’ ability to graze their cattle on the Arizona Strip deprive them of their water rights.

According to the Utah Farm Bureau, more than 45 Utah rancher families have grazing allotments within the boundaries of the monument. Kanab Mayor Colton Johnson said the land in question is geographically separated from the rest of Arizona by the Grand Canyon, noting that part of the memorial is only accessible by ranchers in Kane, Garfield and Washington counties from Utah may be.

“Historically, religiously and culturally, the Arizona Strip is more Utah than Arizona,” Johnson said. “People using it are mostly from Utah … and there are some from Fredonia, Arizona, a few miles south of Kanab.”

Monumental disagreement

Of particular concern is Kanab City Councilman Chris Heaton, a sixth-generation rancher who grazes his 200 cattle on 120,000 acres of land he owns or leases on the Arizona Strip. He said the memorial covers 1,000 acres of his private property.

Heaton has called Biden’s actions a federal land grab and fears it could put him out of business by restricting his grazing rights, confiscating his property and jeopardizing his access to his water rights. In Arizona, ranchers own water rights even if they are on state or federal land.

“Ever since we came here, ranchers have been using this land and we’ve done damn well,” Heaton said. “That’s why the [federal government] want it because they think they can do better than us.”

Heaton also said the notion that the national monument would protect Aboriginal culture and sacred sites was an excuse, since the government will use advertising to attract thousands of people to the area, resulting in the country being desecrated with graffiti and human waste become.

In May, along with other City Council members, Heaton passed a unanimous resolution against the monument. Kane and Washington counties in Utah, Mohave County in Arizona, and the Utah and Arizona Farm Bureaus, among others, have also opposed the monument.

Kane County Commissioner Celeste Meyeres has been particularly vocal in her opposition.

“The touted narrative of sitting down and shutting up if you don’t agree is that there is unanimous support from neighboring governments and tribal peoples for moving to a highly restrictive national heritage preservation,” she said.

“The uncomfortable reality,” Meyeres added, “that those pushing this latest land grab tend to ignore is that the permanent loss of mining, logging, and likely also ranching, is affecting the ability of actual local people to provide for their families and ours.” Navajo and Paiute friends.”

Set the record straight

Amber Reimondo, director of energy at environmental nonprofit Grand Canyon Trust, said such claims are simply false. She said the memorial will not involve confiscation of private property, will not jeopardize existing livestock or water rights, or restrict access to recreational opportunities.

“If those [claims] “If true,” she said, “they would have legitimate ground to stand on.” But they just aren’t true.”

The name Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument is derived from the Havasupai word “baaj nwaavjo” meaning “where indigenous peoples roam” and the Hopi word “utah kuveni” meaning ” our ancestors” means footprints.

The memorial enjoys the unanimous support of the region’s 13 tribes, including the Havasupai Tribe, the Hopi Tribe, the Hualapai Tribe, the Kaibab Paiute Tribe, the Las Vegas Band of Paiute Tribe, the Moapa Band of Paiutes, the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, the Navajo Nation and San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe, Shivwits Band of Paiutes, Yavapai-Apache Nation, Pueblo of Zuni and the Colorado River Indian tribes.

Mayor Johnson said that ranchers and hunters use the land the most, and that the “hippie and environmentalist folks” tend to prefer better-known and more accessible tourist destinations.

Meyeres and other Utahns who criticize the memorial have criticized the Biden administration and federal officials for not holding public hearings in Utah to answer people’s questions and allay their fears. The only meeting, they argue, took place in July in Flagstaff, Arizona, and was noticed at the last minute, making it difficult for many Utahns to attend and contribute.

Aside from drawing local criticism, the new memorial has met with fierce opposition across the country, particularly due to the permanent ban on all new uranium mining areas in the country.

“If there remain any doubts about the Biden administration’s stance on domestic mining, this unwarranted withdrawal dispels them,” Ashley Burke, spokesman for the National Mining Association, said in an email. “By continuing to prevent mineral-rich areas from responsibly mining, this administration is endangering our supply chains, depriving US communities of well-paying jobs and community-building revenues, and enriching our adversaries.” the country dependent on Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan for 60 percent of our imported uranium; Erecting an unnecessary national monument will only deepen that dependency.”

Here, too, according to Reimondo, the rhetoric does not correspond to reality.

“That’s incorrect,” she said, “because the Grand Canyon region contains at most 1.3% of our known uranium mine resources nationwide.” So claims that this will take a huge amount of uranium off the table are simply not correct.”

A historic moment

Native American tribes have always lived in what is now the monument area, long before white settlers came to the area, Reimondo said

“This is a chance for them to protect their ancestral homes and regain stewardship responsibilities that were stolen from them years ago,” she added.

Carletta Tilousi, a member of the Havasupai tribe and coordinator of the Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition, called Biden’s monument designation a great day that has been a long time coming. She said members of the 13 tribes have roamed the monument area and the Grand Canyon for centuries and have sacred archaeological sites and burial sites that are threatened by mining and other industries.

She said the uranium mining poses a risk of the heavy metal entering the Redwall-Muavs aquifer, which the Havasupai people and others living downstream along the Colorado River depend on. Tilousi argues that monument designation is necessary to avert this risk and avoid potential disasters.

“Today is a historic moment for us,” she said. “All the tribes put their word down and say, ‘Stop destroying our holy places and let’s save the water.’ That is our message.”

Editor’s Note • This story is available only to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers. Thank you for supporting local journalism.

Justin Scaccy

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