Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni: Ancestral footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument

A new National Monument protects lands considered sacred by Native peoples.

Today, President Biden established the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument in northern Arizona, an area considered sacred by many tribal Nations in the Southwest and renowned for its natural, cultural, economic, scientific and historic resources and broad recreation opportunities.

This national monument designation, which marks the fifth national monument created by Biden, builds upon decades of efforts from tribal nations, state and local officials, conservation and outdoor recreation advocates, local business owners and members of Congress to recognize and conserve these landscapes in perpetuity. Today’s designation advances the president’s unprecedented climate and conservation agenda.

The new national monument consists of three distinct areas to the north and south of Grand Canyon National Park, totaling approximately 917,618 acres of federal lands in northern Arizona. The lands will continue to be managed by the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service and the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management). The monument designation honors valid existing rights and does not apply to private property or tribal, state or local government lands.

“Today’s designation safeguards a treasured piece of our national heritage for this generation and generations to come,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. “President Biden’s action honors the commitment of the Indigenous peoples that have long held this place sacred and preserves the area’s important historic, scientific, natural and recreational benefits for all Americans.”

“Today’s action by President Biden makes clear that Native American history is American history. This land is sacred to the many Tribal Nations who have long advocated for its protection, and establishing a national monument demonstrates the importance of recognizing the original stewards of our public lands,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “Indigenous knowledge is a core piece of what we mean when we talk about collaborative conservation. Today, I am honored to stand with the President, tribal leaders, and local communities and coalitions that made it possible.”

In May, Secretary Haaland visited the lands proposed for national monument status and met with tribal and community leaders to understand their vision for the care and management of the historic and scientific objects. In July, the Forest Service and BLM hosted a public meeting in Flagstaff, Arizona, to hear from the greater community about the proposal to designate existing public lands as a national monument.

The plateaus, canyons and tributaries surrounding the Grand Canyon comprising the national monument support a remarkable diversity of wildlife and plants, including bison, mule deer, elk, desert bighorn sheep and rare or endemic species of cactus.

The national monument’s name reflects the deep interconnection between the land and its tribal nations. The Havasupai call the land baaj nwaavjo, or “where indigenous peoples roam.” To the Hopi, it is i’tah kukveni or “our ancestral footprints.”

Like their ancestors did, indigenous peoples continue to use these areas for religious ceremonies, hunting and gathering of plants and other materials, including some found nowhere else on earth. These landscapes contain the homelands and other cultural or sacred sites of many tribal nations in the Southwest, including of the Havasupai tribe, Hopi tribe, Hualapai tribe, Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians, Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, Moapa Band of Paiutes, Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, Navajo Nation, San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe, Yavapai-Apache Nation, Pueblo of Zuni and the Colorado River indian tribes.

The area’s unique hydrology has supported indigenous peoples and other forms of life since time immemorial and is essential in providing drinking water and supporting agricultural production and other services for millions of people across the Southwest. In 2012, the Secretary of the Interior withdrew many of these lands from entry and location under the Mining Law for a 20-year period. Today’s designation will permanently protect the vast majority of these lands, while also providing additional protections to the objects of historic and scientific interest located on those lands.

In addition to protecting objects of historic and scientific interest, the national monument designation will support a wide range of opportunities to recreate in the national monument, including hiking, hunting and camping. In 2021, Arizona’s growing outdoor recreation economy contributed more than $9.8 billion to state’s economy and provided over 100,000 jobs.

To ensure that management decisions are informed by indigenous knowledge and tribal expertise, the presidential proclamation calls for the secretaries to explore opportunities for tribal nations to participate in co-stewardship of the monument, as well as establishes a tribal commission. In addition, the proclamation calls for the secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior to establish a monument advisory committee that includes representatives from the Arizona Game and Fish Department; state and local governments; tribal nations; recreational users; conservation organizations; wildlife, hunting, and fishing organizations; the scientific community; the ranching community; business owners; and the general public in the region.

The designation is subject to valid existing rights and would not prevent development of valid existing mining claims. It does not preclude the construction and maintenance of utility, pipeline and telecommunications facilities, roads or highway corridors, or water infrastructure, including wildlife water developments and water district facilities, that occur consistent with proper care and management of monument objects. The designation does not enlarge or diminish the jurisdiction of tribal nations, and similarly respects the jurisdiction of the state of Arizona with respect to its management of hunting and fishing within the monument.

Biden designated the national monument using his authority under the Antiquities Act. President Theodore Roosevelt first used the Antiquities Act in 1906 to designate Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming. Since then, 18 presidents of both parties have used this authority to protect unique natural and historic features in America, including the Statue of Liberty, the Colorado’s Canyon of the Ancients, and New Mexico’s Gila Cliff Dwellings.