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Biden's Grand Canyon monument sparks debate on conservation and mining

In a move to protect sacred Native American lands, President Joe Biden has declared a new national monument spanning nearly one million acres surrounding the Grand Canyon. 

Named Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni, the monument translates to “where Indigenous peoples roam” in the Havasupai language and “our ancestral footprints” in Hopi. This is the fifth such declaration by Biden under the Antiquities Act of 1906.

Uranium mining 

However, the decision is not free from contention. The designated area holds approximately 1.3% of the nation’s known uranium reserves, a crucial component for commercial nuclear reactors, medical isotopes, and defense. Opponents argue that mining these reserves offers significant economic benefits and strengthens national security.

Addressing these concerns, The White House confirmed that while future mining development will be restricted, pre-existing mining claims remain unaffected.

“The mining is off-limits for future development in that area. What the monument does recognize is existing rights that had been established previously,” explained Ali Zaidi, Biden’s National Climate Advisor.

Land use rights

Historically, there have been concerns about mining activities contaminating the region’s water supply. A temporary ban on new mining claims around the Grand Canyon National Park was instituted in 2012 by the Interior Department. Biden’s new designation ensures that this ban becomes permanent.

Amid these ecological and economic debates, ranchers have also voiced fears that the new status could impinge on their grazing lands or introduce new restrictions on their property usage. However, White House officials were quick to note that current land uses, including ranching and grazing, will continue unchanged. Additionally, no private land will come under the monument’s purview.

A new era

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American cabinet secretary, praised the move, observing that the monument heralded a “new era” of collaboration with Native American tribes. 

“It will help ensure that indigenous people can continue to use these areas for religious ceremonies, hunting and gathering of plants, medicines and other materials, including some found nowhere else on Earth,” said Haaland. “It will protect objects of historic and scientific importance for the benefit of tribes, the public, and for future generations.”

Political implications 

At the same time, the political implications of Biden’s decision can’t be ignored. Native Americans have historically been vital allies for Biden, having played a significant role in his Arizona win in the 2020 elections.

Back in 2017, former President Barack Obama had mulled over a similar monument designation, facing strong resistance from Arizona’s Republican leaders. At the time, Then-Gov. Doug Ducey threatened legal action, asserting that the state had an adequate number of national monuments already.

Arizona’s political landscape has since evolved. The current Governor Katie Hobbs, alongside Democratic Senator Mark Kelly and independent Senator Kyrsten Sinema, have publicly backed Biden’s decision. 

Fierce opposition

On the other hand, mining companies and regions banking on their economic contribution remain fiercely opposed. Mohave County supervisor Buster Johnson expressed concerns about the geopolitical implications of the decision. “We need uranium for the security of our country. We’re out of the game,” said Johnson. 

While no uranium mines are currently operational in Arizona, several claims that were grandfathered in before the 2012 ban could still open even under the new monument designation.

Following his visit to Arizona, President Biden plans to head to Albuquerque to discuss the new job opportunities emerging from the fight against climate change.

More about national monuments

National monuments are protected areas that can be designated by the President of the United States, under the authority of the Antiquities Act of 1906. They can also be designated by Congress. Here are some key points about national monuments:


National monuments are designated to protect objects of historical, cultural, and/or scientific interest. These can range from natural landscapes, prehistoric ruins, to historically significant buildings.

Antiquities Act of 1906

This act was signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt. It gives the President the authority to designate public lands as national monuments without needing the approval of Congress.

Size and diversity

The size of national monuments can vary widely. They can be as small as a single building or as vast as millions of acres of wilderness. The U.S. has national monuments located in the sea, on the mainland, and even in urban areas.

Difference from national parks

While both national monuments and national parks protect valuable resources, they are designated differently. Presidents can create national monuments, but only Congress can designate national parks. Additionally, national parks tend to be larger and might have stricter usage regulations.


Many national monuments are managed by the National Park Service, but others are overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


The designation of national monuments can sometimes be controversial, particularly if it affects resource development or land use rights. Over the years, some decisions to designate or modify the boundaries of national monuments have led to public and political debate.


Some of the U.S.’s most iconic landscapes began as national monuments, including the Grand Canyon in Arizona and Bryce Canyon in Utah. Other well-known national monuments include the Statue of Liberty in New York, Muir Woods in California, and Bears Ears in Utah.

Economic and cultural impact

National monuments can have a significant economic impact on local communities by drawing tourists and boosting local businesses. Moreover, many national monuments protect places that are culturally and spiritually significant, particularly to Indigenous communities.

National monuments play a crucial role in preserving the diverse history, culture, and natural beauty of the U.S. They serve as a reminder of the nation’s past and a beacon for future generations to learn and find inspiration.


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