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Biden commits to protect Nevada sacred tribal lands as administration moves forward with new national monument

<i>Pete Marovich/Getty Images</i><br/>President Joe Biden greets Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland during the 2022 White House Tribal Nations Summit at the Department of the Interior on November 30 in Washington
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Pete Marovich/Getty Images
President Joe Biden greets Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland during the 2022 White House Tribal Nations Summit at the Department of the Interior on November 30 in Washington

By Ella Nilsen, CNN

President Joe Biden on Wednesday committed to protecting Spirit Mountain and the surrounding area in Nevada, a sacred site for the Fort Mojave and other Native American tribal nations.

Biden’s announcement during Wednesday’s White House Tribal Nations Summit is part of an ongoing process to designate the site as a new national monument, known as the Avi Kwa Ame National Monument, according to a Biden administration source. If completed, it could be one of the largest tracts of land conserved during Biden’s first term.

“When it comes to Spirit Mountain and the surrounding canyons and regions in southern Nevada, I’m committed to protecting this sacred place that is essential to the creation story of so many tribes that are here today,” Biden said. His remarks were met with cheers from the audience at the tribal nations summit.

Spirit Mountain — known as Avi Kwa Ame in Mojave language — sits in the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts in Southern Nevada and is a sacred site for over 10 tribal nations. Of the proposals being considered, one from Democratic Rep. Dina Titus of Nevada would conserve close to 450,000 acres of land around Spirit Mountain. However, the administration is also considering other options.

Top Interior Department officials, including Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Bureau of Land Management Director Tracy Stone-Manning — have held public roundtables and community meetings with local tribal leaders and members of Nevada’s congressional delegation. The Fort Mojave Tribe has been working to protect the site for around 30 years.

“Avi Kwa Ame holds deep spiritual and historic significance to the Native people who have stewarded these lands since time immemorial,” Haaland said in a statement. “I am thrilled that President Biden is committed to protecting this sacred place, and honoring the many years of work of the Tribes and local community to safeguard the integrity of the historic and cultural landscape and the many objects of significance within it.”

While Interior and the Bureau of Land Management have identified millions of acres in Nevada for renewable energy development, there’s no current proposed wind and solar projects within the proposed monument area and much of the public lands within the proposed monument area can’t be considered for clean energy development because they are part of the critical habitat for a desert tortoise species.

Outside of the proposed monument area, BLM has identified more than nine million acres of federal land that could be used to build utility-scale solar panels, as well as 16.8 million acres of federal land that could be developed for onshore wind.

Nevada lawmakers, including recently reelected Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, urged a swift official designation of the Avi Kwa Ame national monument.

“Across Nevada, this national monument has widespread support and is a key part of our work to protect our environmental and cultural resources,” Cortez Masto said in a statement. “I look forward to celebrating the official designation of Nevada’s next National Monument.”

Tribes and environmental groups also praised Biden’s move.

“The Avi Kwa Ame National Monument will contribute to a narrative of an America that protects culturally, biologically, historically, and economically important landscapes for our communities, and especially honors the stories of Indigenous communities which have often been denied historical recognition,” said Nevada Conservation League’s Craig Bakerjian in a statement.

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