To the editor:
President Barack Obama just designated two new national monuments, Bears Ears in Utah and Gold Butte in Nevada, honoring the deep and historical connections of Native Americans to these lands. National monument status will ensure these connections remain unfettered and that the lands are safeguarded for future generations. The designations rightfully help broaden the story of our country’s history.
For many Native Americans in the Southwest, our origin stories, our core beliefs come from sacred sites such as the Grand Canyon. Our wellness is tied to the wellness of the land — the water, soil and wildlife that sustain us. We know that our health and the health of our children is dependent on protecting the land.
The Navajo Nation has experienced first-hand the suffering associated with environmental degradation. Past uranium mining has left a lasting toxic stain on our people’s health and I fear unless we act, it could tarnish our future as well. The Navajo Nation supported the mineral withdrawal that is currently providing temporary protection for some of the lands and waters in the Greater Grand Canyon region. Yet, even now, uranium interests are seeking to overturn those protections in court. There are thousands of uranium mining claims waiting to move forward. Those mines threaten not only those who live near the Grand Canyon, but the millions of people across the Southwest who rely on the Colorado River.
I have traveled to Washington, D.C., met with decision-makers at all levels of government, traveled the state sharing my story and my desire to see the Greater Grand Canyon permanently protected. But the story of the Grand Canyon is not mine alone. It is not just that of the Navajo Nation, or the Paiute, Zuni, Hopi, Hualapai or Havasupai that all have strong ties to the region. It is not just the story of the people I represent.
It is also about the wildlife, including the mule deer and the unique Kaibab squirrel, and the California condors that grace the skies over these lands. It is about the waters, the springs that sustain and are critical to life in the region. It is about the memories made by millions of visitors that come to experience the grandeur of the Grand Canyon every year. It is about the outdoor recreation economy that is so vital to the state of Arizona and increasingly to the Navajo people. It’s a connection with something bigger than ourselves and a commentary on the persistence of nature.
The Grand Canyon has been so much a part of our past, and a part of our present. But like the walls of the canyon, it could be eroded away unless we secure its place in our future. It is time to continue the story of many who have come before us for those who will come after us. The story of the Grand Canyon is big and bold. I hope that President Obama will be as well, and will permanently protect the Greater Grand Canyon as a national monument.
Jamescita Peshlakai Arizona State Senator-elect, Legislative District 7
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