President Joe Biden will use his executive powers to establish a sweeping national monument at Spirit Mountain, a landscape that is sacred to a dozen Native American tribes, a senior administration official confirmed to HuffPost.
Biden signaled his forthcoming action during a speech Wednesday morning at the White House Tribal Nations Summit.
“There’s so much more that we’re going to do to protect treasured tribal lands,” Biden said. “When it comes to Spirit Mountain and the surrounding ridges and canyons in southern Nevada, I am committed to protecting this sacred place that is central to the creation story of so many tribes that are here today.”
Located in the southernmost corner of Nevada, Avi Kwa Ame — meaning “Spirit Mountain” in the Mojave language — is the tallest peak in its namesake Spirit Mountain Wilderness. For months, tribes, environmentalists and public land advocates have been pressing the Biden administration to grant Spirit Mountain monument status and bar new mining, drilling and other development.
The Washington Post first reported the upcoming monument designation early Wednesday.
It is unclear when Biden will sign a proclamation establishing the monument or how many acres the new site will span. Tribes and environmental organizations have called for as much as 450,000 acres to be protected, and Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) introduced a bill earlier this year that proposed a similar footprint.
The Honor Avi Kwa Ame coalition, which is made up of tribes, conservation groups and area residents, said it was “thrilled and overjoyed” by the upcoming designation.
“Tribal leaders and members, monument supporters and the general public made their voices heard about this culturally and ecologically significant proposal and the need to safeguard these resources for future generations,” the coalition said in a statement. “This effort to expand federal protection for Avi Kwa Ame has been years in the making, and finally it is nearing success thanks to the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to supporting locally led efforts across the country to conserve important places.”
Wednesday’s announcement comes several weeks after Biden traveled to central Colorado to create Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument, which encompasses Camp Hale, a World War II-era military training site, and the nearby Tenmile Range. The designation, his first national monument as president, brought more than 50,000 federal acres under increased protections that bar new drilling, mining and other development.
Signed into law in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt, the Antiquities Act authorizes the president to “declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments.” Sixteen presidents, both Republicans and Democrats, have used it to create more than 150 monuments.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who was present at Wednesday’s summit and visited Avi Kwa Ame in September, was among those who applauded Biden’s pledge.
“Avi Kwa Ame holds deep spiritual and historic significance to the Native people who have stewarded these lands since time immemorial,” Haaland said in an email statement. “I am thrilled that President Biden is committed to protecting this sacred place, and honor the many years of work of the Tribes and local community to safeguard the integrity of the historic and cultural landscape and the many objects of significance within it.”