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The Grand Canyon is under siege

Ha ŧay g’am, Wi:Nyi Gacha, Ongtupqa, Tsékooh Hatsoh, Chimik’yana’kya deya’a. (“Grand Canyon” in Havasupai, Hualapai, Hopi, Navajo, and Zuni languages.)
You may not recognize these words, though you know the place they describe. The crown jewel of the U.S. National Park System, a place that leaves all Americans awestruck, one of the seven natural wonders of the world: The Grand Canyon.
{mosads}We, the people of the Havasupai, Hopi, and Zuni tribes, the Hualapai Nation, the Navajo Nation, and other tribes, know the Grand Canyon as a place of internationally recognized beauty and unparalleled conservation value. But it is much more than that. We trace our ancestry to the Grand Canyon, and many of our ancestors are buried here. We consider the Grand Canyon sacred. It is a place where we see and understand our past, and it is vital to our future, as an eternal home and source of spiritual sustenance.
The Grand Canyon is truly under siege. For decades, uranium mining – first within Grand Canyon National Park, then just outside its boundaries – has marred our canyon home. As recently as the mid-2000s, thousands of new uranium mining claims were filed just north and south of the Grand Canyon National Park.
Uranium mining has left a toxic legacy – poisoning our waters, our homes, our families, and our children. More than 500 abandoned, un-reclaimed mines contaminate the Navajo Nation, next door to the Grand Canyon. The Hopi have yet to determine the full environmental and human cost of uranium milling waste left by mining companies.
We enthusiastically supported the Obama administration’s 20-year withdrawal of more than 1 million acres around the Grand Canyon from new uranium mining in 2012. And, we have watched in alarm as the uranium mining industry and some of our elected officials have attempted to overturn this withdrawal, promising to do away with it come 2017.
We cannot survive intact as people without an intact Grand Canyon. In the waning days of your administration, we call on you, Mr. President, to do what is right for Grand Canyon, for the people and cultures that depend on Grand Canyon, and for the American people as a whole: designate the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument.
This is no abstract idea. We have worked closely with congressional partners to develop the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument Act. The Act lays out a reasonable and necessary strategy for protecting 1.7 million acres of culturally and biologically invaluable land surrounding Grand Canyon.
We are skeptical that Congress will do its job and pass this important piece of legislation. If it does not, we hope this legislation will serve as a template for you, Mr. President, to declare a monument under the Antiquities Act, which authorizes the President to protect this kind of place from threats.
Despite false claims to the contrary, the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument will not affect private property rights, grazing, hunting, fishing, or needed forest restoration within the monument.
It will, however, prohibit new uranium mining within monument boundaries, protecting our sacred lands from an industry that is neither adequately regulated by the federal government, nor adequately self-regulating. It is an industry with a disastrous history and the potential to create irreversible damage to our home, our sacred lands, and a world treasure.
Importantly, a monument will also honor the important historical stewardship responsibilities assumed by tribes in the region, and create new opportunities for tribes to work closely with federal agencies to ensure that the Grand Canyon remains vital, sacred, and sustaining for generations to come.
This centennial year of the National Park Service, as America celebrates its commitment to conservation, is also a bittersweet moment for many tribes, as we remember the lands that were taken from us. In this centennial year, in a place of such profound importance to so many Native Americans, we ask you, Mr. President, to finish the job you started.
Stand with us and with the millions of Americans who cherish the Grand Canyon and will applaud its protection. Honor our rich heritage and promising future as a people.
Celebrate conservation in a place where we as native people have known and practiced conservation for millennia, and where the idea of conservation was reborn nearly 100 years ago. Mr. President, We respectfully ask to designate the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage as a National Monument.

President Begaye, Navajo Nation, Honahnie Jr. is environmental policy advisor and assistant to chairman Honanie, Hopi Nation and Hubbs is director, Department of Cultural Resources and Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, Hualapai Tribe


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