Andie Madsen: The Biden administration must establish the Grand Canyon National Monument

(Julie Jacobson | The Associated Press) The Grand Canyon National Park pictured on Oct. 5, 2013. Indigenous tribes are calling on President Biden to protect land around Grand Canyon National Park as a national monument.

It’s clear that the Biden administration and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland are leading the way forward in incorporating Indigenous leaders and tribes into public land policy.

Recently, Secretary Haaland visited Arizona and heard from members of the Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition. The Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition is attempting to protect parts of the greater Grand Canyon landscape to honor the significant cultural and historic values it holds through a national monument designation. Additionally, the designation would rectify the uranium mining history in the area while protecting the watershed from future uranium mining.

The Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition’s story and Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni Grand Canyon National Monument feel familiar to those who were involved in the Bears Ears struggle not so long ago. Utahns remember that oil and uranium mining were central in the Trump administration’s decision to shrink Bears Ears National Monument.

It’s no different in the Grand Canyon: The historical mining, processing and transportation of uranium in the area have left a toxic legacy of health, safety and environmental damage, adversely impacting tribes and local communities in northern Arizona.

Both Bears Ears and Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni represent a protection against uranium mining. Both Bears Ears and Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni hold lands that are the ancestral homes to the tribes with significant natural and cultural resources. And both Bears Ears and Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni have critical recreational value that cannot be understated for both Utah and Arizona’s economies.

However, the Bears Ears struggle ended when, on Oct. 8th, 2021, President Joe Biden issued an executive proclamation reinstating the monument to its original size and upholding “efforts to honor the federal trust responsibility to Tribal Nations, and conserve these lands and waters for future generations.”

If honoring the responsibility to tribal nations as well as conserving land and water for the next generation, as outlined in Biden’s America the Beautiful initiative, why hasn’t the Grand Canyon monument been designated?

The Bears Ears National Monument’s re-designation from the Biden administration and the inclusion of tribes in co-management in 2021 marked a shift in public land policy towards a more just approach that incorporates Indigenous peoples’ perspectives and histories. Since the initial designation of the Bears Ears National Monument by President Barack Obama, Indigenous groups across the country have won significant victories in gaining power over public land policy and management.

In 2020, Congress passed the Bison Range Restoration law that transitions management back to Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Much like the restoration of the BENM by the Biden administration, this transfer of management power back to the tribes was guided by leadership from Secretary Haaland who said that “returning management of the land to the tribes is a culmination of Native peoples’ resilience.”

Another opportunity for the Biden administration to recognize the resilience of Native peoples would be to put forward the Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition’s proposal.

The parallels between the tribes-led coalitions at Bears Ears and the Grand Canyon highlight that environmental injustice somewhere is environmental injustice everywhere. President Biden has a responsibility and an obligation to extend the promises he made to the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition to the Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition through a national monument designation.

Establishing the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni Grand Canyon National Monument would be a win for the Biden administration, the coalition, Indian Country and environmental justice everywhere.

Although listening to tribes is a great first step, the Biden administration needs to seriously consider the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni Grand Canyon National Monument proposal soon to continue the historic progress of the last few years.

So here is my call to action: President Biden, the proposal and its benefits are straightforward. It’s up to you whether you establish the Grand Canyon National Monument just like you restored Bears Ears, or you ignore an opportunity to make progress toward protecting 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030. The Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition is resilient, but the time for change is now if your administration truly stands for environmental justice and climate action.

Andie Madsen

Andie Madsen is a student at the The S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah. She is passionate about public lands and climate policy. She plans to become an environmental lawyer working for the people of Utah and the state’s future.