Biden to Turn 700 Square Miles of Southern Nevada Held Sacred by Native Tribes Into Protected Land
US President Joe Biden is preparing to set aside a vast area of southern Nevada as protected federal land, which includes Spirit Mountain, or Avi Kwa’ Ame in the language of the indigenous Mojave people, for whom the mountain is sacred.
Biden will reportedly use the 1906 Antiquities Act, which gives him the power to proclaim national monuments via executive action. It will include some 700 square miles of land in southern Nevada, or effectively the entire state south of Las Vegas, and mark the land as off-limits to development of any type.
The announcement is set to be made at the White House on Wednesday amid the two-day Tribal Nations Summit - the first such summit in six years.
Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, ran roughshod over indigenous treaty rights in the name of increasing oil and gas extraction, and refused to hold a summit with Native nations. Last year, Biden revived the summit, but held it virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It changes with each president,” Navajo President Jonathan Nez, who leads the largest Native American reservation in the country, told the Associated Press about the White House’s policy toward the country’s first inhabitants. “And even if it’s legislated, it takes a significant effort especially when, at times, tribal issues take the back seat to larger, national issues.”
Other developments expected at the summit include a plan by the US Commerce Department to co-manage public resources, such as water and fisheries, with local tribes, and a new report outlining best practices for integrating tribal treaty rights into decision-making processes by federal agencies.
There are some 574 federally recognized Native American tribes in the US, which are subject to US federal law but retain certain elements of sovereignty within their borders. The US government set aside the land beginning in the 19th century, after waves of European settlement drove indigenous people off their ancestral lands. However, the reservations remain highly underdeveloped, with high rates of poverty and little access to plumbing, clean water, or nutritious food.
In recent decades, Native nations have demanded the US abide by the numerous treaties it signed with them, whom the US Constitution describes as sovereign nations. Much of that has focused around access to traditional hunting and fishing grounds, protection of sacred sites such as Spirit Mountain, and preventing the construction of gas pipelines across their lands.