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Tribes, leaders celebrate Avi Kwa Ame national monument

More than 20 years ago a coalition of Native tribes, conservationists and activists began efforts to protect an area in Southern Nevada home to sacred cultural sites, desert wildlife and twisting dirt roads traveled by many for years.

On Friday, the coalition celebrated the area’s permanent protection through its designation as a national monument — which President Joe Biden made official in late March — joined at Springs Preserve by Nevada’s federal delegates and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary.

Avi Kwa Ame, meaning “Spirit Mountain” in Mojave, joins the Silver State’s three other monuments, Tule Springs, Gold Butte and Basin and Range, in preservation from future development.

“The work and prayers over the last 20 or so years has finally brought us to this day of celebration,” said Deryn Pete, chairwoman of the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe.

The national monument protects about 500,000 acres of land stretching from the Newberry mountains in the east to the New York South McCullough, Castle and Piute mountains in the west, where about a dozen Yuman-speaking tribes have traced their origins.

Avi Kwa Ame is considered one of the most sacred places on Earth to those tribes and an important place in history for many other Indigenous tribes in the area who have traveled through the area and recorded their “life cycle” in what is called the “salt songs.”

Haaland said she was able to visit Avi Kwa Ame early Friday as the sun rose.

“As I participated in the blessings and watched dancers grace the ground in unison with the songs, I was struck by the power and presence of the ancestors, and tribal communities who have prayed on, protected and drawn strength from this special place for thousands of years,” Haaland said.

“For the tribes that have called this region home for millennia, Avi Kwa Ame isn’t just a place,” she said. “It’s the source of life and creation that continues to feed the cultures, practices, songs and dances of so many communities.”

Biden designated the national monument through the Antiquities Act, which was first used by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 to designate Tower National Monument in Wyoming. Eighteen different presidents have used the act to protect federal lands since then, according to the Department of Interior.

The monument will be co-managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service, but the tribes will have a voice as well.

Some Indigenous people have expressed concerns about vandalism of the area, such as the bulbs and tinsel that have been used to decorate Christmas Tree Pass Road and destruction of the historic petroglyphs.

Taylor Patterson, executive director of Native Voters Alliance Nevada and member of the Honor Avi Kwa Ame Coalition, thinks that will stop with better education and a deeper level of respect.

“When people visit the Grand Canyon, they have a very specific idea of how to visit the Grand Canyon,” Patterson said. “And I’m hoping Avi Kwa Ame will be able to have that same respect as well.”

She also hopes Avi Kwa Ame laid the foundation for better tribal participation in monument designations.

“This is just the beginning,” Patterson said. “I really see Avi Kwa Ame as being sort of the next step in the direction of better consultation, more rich co-management practices, a better relationship, really, between our federal agencies and our tribes.”

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on Twitter.

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