Tribal leaders support push for creation of Grand Canyon national monument

The Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni monument would permanently halt mining near the Grand Canyon

By: - April 12, 2023 7:02 am

A tourist approaches the precipice June 8, 2009, at the Grand Canyon. Photo by John Moore | Getty Images

The Grand Canyon is the ancestral homeland of multiple tribal nations in the Southwest, and tribes still rely on the canyon for natural and cultural resources that are significant and sacred to their communities. 

And in an effort to sustain the natural resources provided by the Grand Canyon, tribal leaders in the Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition voiced their support for an initiative to designate land adjacent to the Grand Canyon National Park as a national monument. 

“It is our home,” said Edmond Tilousi, the vice chairman of the Havasupai Tribe, the only tribe that lives inside the Grand Canyon. “It is our land and water source and our very being.”


The effort has the backing of U.S. Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, a Tucson Democrat, who said declaring the Grand Canyon a national monument will preserve the area for everyone, but especially the tribes for whom it is a sacred place.

“The national monument provides security to the Grand Canyon,” Grijalva said Tuesday. “It provides security to the Indigenous people and tribes who see the Grand Canyon in a more profound and deep way.” 

Grijalva and U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, alongside tribal leaders, launched the effort on Tuesday, calling on President Joe Biden to use his authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate the monument.

“The Grand Canyon is one of Arizona’s many natural treasures and an important part of our history and heritage,” Sinema said. “We are officially calling on the administration to make these areas a national monument to protect our water and cultural heritage.”

The national monument would be known as Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni Grand Canyon National Monument, the name a mixture of the traditional Havasupai and Hopi languages. 

Baaj Nwaavjo means “where tribes roam” for the Havasupai Tribe, and I’tah Kukveni means “our footprints” for the Hopi Tribe.

The Grand Canyon National Park shares boundaries with three federally recognized tribes and 11 federally recognized tribes traditionally are associated with the area, according to the National Park Service.

The proposal builds on the tribes’ longstanding effort to permanently protect the region. The proposed monument would include 1,102,501 acres near the Grand Canyon National Park. 

Tilousi said calling upon the Biden administration to create the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni Grand Canyon National Monument is an important moment for the Havasupai tribe because they have lived in and around the Grand Canyon since time immemorial. 

“Our ancestors once spread far and wide throughout the region, what later became known as the Grand Canyon National Park,” Tilousi said, before the federal government forcefully removed the Havasupai people in 1928. 

“As tragic as these events were, we are proud to have never left the Grand Canyon,” he said. “Our home is still in the Grand Canyon, and we’re the only tribe that has remained here. We know this place intimately; the canyon is a part of each and every Havasupai person.”

Tilousi said the tribe’s sacred sites, medicine, land, and water are located in and around the Grand Canyon. Designating these areas as a national monument will protect them from contamination, destruction, exploitation, and other harmful effects of mining, he added.

“As guardians of the Grand Canyon, we have a duty not only to our ancestors but also to our children and future generations,” he said. 

The national monument designation would honor the tribes’ deep cultural ties to the Grand Canyon and protect the area by making permanent a temporary 20-year mining moratorium and enhancing the region’s cultural, natural, recreational and scientific resources.

“It is the Indigenous people, the tribes, who have served as the principal protectors, guardians and stewards of the Grand Canyon, their real and spiritual home,” Grijalva said. They have been leading the fight to preserve the Grand Canyon’s natural heritage.  

“This has been a consistent effort, going on two decades,” Grijalva said, noting that there have been multiple efforts on the legislative level to get the Grand Canyon region protected.

“This campaign is not just about making history, but it’s about saving history and its spirit,” he added.

The tribes who are a part of the Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition in support of the monument include the Havasupai, Hopi, Hualapai, Kaibab Paiute, Moapa Band of Paiutes of Southern Nevada, Las Vegas Band of Paiute, Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, Navajo Nation, San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe, Yavapai-Apache Nation, Pueblo of Zuni and the Colorado River Indian Tribes.

“The creator gave us a gift, and that form is in the form of the Grand Canyon,” Hopi Tribe Chairman Tim Nuvangyaoma said. “We do have to protect the beauty and grandeur of this place many tribes call home.”

The monument effort is an encouraging step forward for the Hopi Tribe, Nuvangyaoma said, because they have cultural traditions connected to the Grand Canyon.

“I don’t think any tribe has ever lost that (cultural) connection,” he said. The best way for tribes to continue that connection is by ensuring it is available for future generations. 

Through a national monument designation, Colorado River Indian Tribes Chairwomen Amelia Flores said it offers recognition of the region not only by Indigenous communities, but the federal government and outside communities. 

“We are all working to preserve our histories and our places in the landscape along the colorado river,” Flores said, adding that using the Havasupai and Hopi languages as part of the name for the monument is very important because it provides a spiritual connection.

It will respect Indigenous people’s knowledge about these places, Flores said, and show how these natural sites are living because they have always been a living entity for tribes. 

If Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni Grand Canyon National Monument is designated, Grijalva said that it would potentially eliminate a couple of challenges that impact the Colorado River, including contamination and interruption in water flow. 

“It is protecting that water source not only for the state of Arizona but the seven basin states,” Grijalva said, and through a monument designation will extend protections to that watershed that is currently not protected.

It has the ability to protect the Grand Canyon area permanently from extraction and destruction, Grijalva added.

Coconino County Supervisor Lena Fowler echoed Grijalva’s watershed protection, saying that this monument would protect the communities that rely on the natural spring water in the Grand Canyon region and the Colorado River watershed.

“This is our homeland, and we’ll be able to protect that,” Fowler, who is Navajo, said. “It will highlight the importance of land that provides for the people.”


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Shondiin Silversmith
Shondiin Silversmith

Shondiin Silversmith is an award-winning Native journalist based on the Navajo Nation. Silversmith has covered Indigenous communities for more than 10 years, and covers Arizona's 22 federally recognized sovereign tribal nations, as well as national and international Indigenous issues.