The President promised Tribal leaders he would protect this sacred Nevada landscape. What is he waiting for?
It’s been 100 days since President Joe Biden promised he would protect a large swath of Mojave Desert in southern Nevada called Avi Kwa Ame that is sacred to multiple tribes, including the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe and the Hopi Tribe.
“I’m committed to protecting this sacred place that’s central to the creation story of so many tribes here today,” Biden told Tribal leaders at the White House Tribal Nations Summit in November. “I’m grateful to so many of you that have led the fight to protect it.”
Protecting Avi Kwa Ame is a win-win for Tribal communities, the environment, and the Biden administration, and there is no reason for the White House to delay the monument’s designation. Every day that passes without protections for Avi Kwa Ame undercuts the Biden administration’s promise to prioritize the protection of public lands and honor Tribal nations.
After the reversal, the Honor Avi Kwa Ame Coalition issued a statement saying, “We are disappointed to learn that President Biden will not be able to fit the designation of Avi Kwa Ame into his travel itinerary next week… Our coalition has no preference on the exact location or logistics of a designation ceremony, besides the recognition and presence of…Tribal leaders.”
According to anonymous sources who spoke to the Washington Post, scheduling difficulties are causing the delay. The sources say the White House contacted Nevada lawmakers about scheduling the announcement during Biden’s visit to Las Vegas, but Nevada Senators Jacky Rosen and Catherine Cortez Masto — both of whom support the monument designation — couldn’t make it because the Senate is in session next week. White House aides say the Biden administration is now exploring whether to hold a designation ceremony at the White House, rather than in Nevada, to accommodate Rosen and Cortez Masto.
The proposed Avi Kwa Ame National Monument includes 450,000 acres of Mojave Desert land in the southernmost tip of Nevada, just north of Laughlin and the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe’s reservation. The Tribe has advocated for the protection of this landscape.
“It’s our place of creation. Avi Kwa Ame is a place where we make the connection to the land, the place where we make connection to the water,” Fort Mojave Chairman Timothy Williams said of the proposed monument. “It’s definitely a place of spiritual importance.”
A tall, rocky ridge called Avi Kwa Ame, or Spirit Mountain, located at the eastern edge of the proposed monument is of particular importance to Tribal members, many of whom consider it to be their people’s place of emergence. Spirit Mountain is already protected as wilderness; however the area to the west of it is not. Tribal members say that it is important to protect the whole landscape to ensure that the viewshed and soundscape of the mountain isn’t disrupted and to protect desert wildlife.
The proposed 450,000-acre monument would connect multiple areas of already-protected desert habitat in Nevada, California, and Arizona, creating large, uninterrupted migration routes for threatened species, like the desert tortoise and bighorn sheep. The proposed monument would also protect a large Joshua tree forest.
There is no organized opposition to protecting Avi Kwa Ame, and recent polling by Colorado College shows that 83 percent of Nevadans support the designation of the monument. Finally, protecting the monument would count toward the Biden administration’s goal of protecting 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030, called America the Beautiful.
To learn more about Avi Kwa Ame, watch the Center for Western Priorities short film, part of our Road to 30: Postcards series, and for an up-to-the-second clock counting the time since Biden promised to protect Avi Kwa Ame, see the top of the Center for Western Priorities website.