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Biden: Nevada site sacred to tribes to become national monument


LAS VEGAS (AP) — President Joe Biden said Wednesday at a meeting of tribal leaders in Washington that he intends to designate an area considered sacred by Native Americans in southern Nevada as a new national monument.

“When it comes to Spirit Mountain and the surrounding ridges and canyons, I am committed to protecting this sacred place that is central to the history of the creation of many of the tribes that are here today,” Biden said during remarks at the White House National Summit of Tribal Nations.

The site, which will be named Avi-Kwa-Ame (Ah-VEE’ kwa-meh) National Monument, will cover a harsh and dry area in a triangular shape roughly from Arizona and the Colorado River to California and the Mojave National Preserve. The area is largely an undeveloped landscape dotted with Joshua trees and longhorn migration routes.

The appointment is not final, but the president’s announcement was welcomed by representatives of Indian tribes, members of the Nevada congressional delegation and conservationists.

Spirit Mountain, northwest of Laughlin, is the highest in the surrounding Newberry Mountains. The Fort Mojave Indian Tribe called it “Awi Kwa Ame” and in 1999 listed it on the National Register of Historic Places as a tribal sacred site.

The 5,642-foot (1,720-meter) peak is already in a 52-square-mile (135-square-kilometer) wilderness area managed by the Federal Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service.

A broad coalition of tribes and conservation groups has been pushing for years to expand the protected area, which includes Walking Box Ranch, a Spanish Colonial Revival home once owned by 1920s Hollywood actors Clara Bow and Rex Bell. This site is also listed on the National Historic Register.

A Swedish company’s proposal to build a wind farm in the area was rejected last year by the US Bureau of Land Management.

On Wednesday, Biden credited U.S. Rep. Dina Titus and Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jackie Rosen for advancing the proposal.

Titus called the mountain a spiritual center for 10 Yuman speaking tribes, as well as the Hopi and Hemehuevi-Paiute.

“The story of Avi Kwa Ame is one of perseverance and passion,” she said in a statement, in which Fort Mojave Tribal Chairman Timothy Williams called the site “a unique cultural landscape that is a center of creation for the Mojave people.”

“Knowing that our future generations will have the freedom to continue our cultural and religious practices as we have done since time immemorial is both a model of inclusiveness and a promise to honor the strength of Nevada’s diversity,” Williams said.

The new 703-square-mile (18,201 square kilometer) monument is comparable in size to Florida’s Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Other national monuments in Nevada include Gold Butte, Basin and Range, and Tule Springs.

Under the Antiquities Act of 1906, presidents have the authority to create national monuments. Congress can also designate sites through legislation, and Titus introduced a measure in February to set aside the Avi Kwa Ame site.

US agencies currently manage more than 130 national monuments across the country. A political and legal battle continues over the size of two national monuments in Utah, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante.

Founded by outgoing President Barack Obama in 2016, Bears Ears is about three times the size of Avi Kwa Ame.

In October, the Utah-based tribe criticized Biden after designating his first national monument in Colorado, saying the White House did not properly consult with tribal leaders.

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