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Tribal leaders and advocates call for more land protection

Speakers discussed the importance of preserving natural, cultural and spiritually significant land
Pumpjacks dip their heads to extract oil in a basin south of Duchesne, Utah, on July 13. Uinta Basin Railway, one of the United States’ biggest rail investments in more than a century, could be an 88-mile line in Utah that would run through tribal lands and national forest to move oil and gas to the national rail network. Critics question investing billions in oil and gas infrastructure as the country seeks to use less of the fossil fuels that worsen climate change. (Rick Bowmer/Associated Press file)

WASHINGTON – Tribal leaders and Indigenous community advocates called on the Biden administration to protect more ancestral homelands by designating them as national monuments.

The Indigenous Voices of Nevada hosted a news conference on Thursday to encourage President Joe Biden to designate the proposed Chuckwalla National Monument and to expand the San Gabriels National Monument and The Medicine Lake Highlands.

These public lands would be made into monuments through the Antiquities Act, which provides the legal protection for cultural and natural resources of historic or scientific interest on federal lands.

Chairman Thomas Tortez, Jr. from the Torres Martinez Desert Chauilla Indians said creating the Chuckwalla National Monument and expanding the Joshua Tree Park would add protection to public lands for wildlife, as well as cultural and spiritual access.

“The land management plan, which incorporates Indigenous knowledge and Western science together creates a more holistic and inclusive approach to protecting the cultural landscapes,” he said.

In his America the Beautiful Initiative, Biden commits to conservation efforts that involve federal, state, tribal and private sectors to protect public lands. His initiative emphasizes the need for “robust” consultation with tribal nations and honoring tribal sovereignty and treaty and subsistence rights, in addition to the freedom of religious practices.

This is especially important for tribes without federal designation, said Rudy Ortega, president of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians. The FTBMI are still seeking federal acknowledgment and are calling on the Biden administration to add 109,000 acres of public lands to expand the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.

“When the tribe doesn’t have federal status yet, when we go into (areas of historical and cultural significance), the negotiation pieces of protecting these areas are highly, highly hard to do these activities,” Ortega said. “And so by having a forest and having a monument be a partnership and an ally to the tribes, we’re able to further enhance and protect these areas.”

Since taking office, the Biden administration has created four new national monuments that the Indigenous Voices of Nevada said have “cultural and historic significance for tribes.”

The conference was held ahead of the White House Tribal Nations Summit, which will be held Dec. 6 and 7 in Washington, D.C. Tribal leaders and advocates will meet with Biden administration officials during that time to discuss issues facing tribal communities.

“Cultural, natural and spiritual resources are essential to the welfare of regionally affiliated Indigenous peoples,” Tortez said. “Indigenous peoples have been stewards of the natural resources in these homelands for thousands and thousands of years and the protection of the regional plants and wildlife is foundational to our continued well-being and cultural practices.”

Weslan Hansen is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a student at American University in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at whansen@durangoherald.com.

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