Q&A: Titus preps for preservation of sacred Spirit Mountain
'Respect is absolutely what we are doing by preserving this land.'
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden made news last week when he announced during the White House Tribal Nations Summit that he planned to use his powers under the 1906 Antiquities Act to preserve a massive amount of sacred tribal lands known as Avi Kwa Ame, or Spirit Mountain.
“There's so [much] more that we're going to do to protect the treasured tribal lands,” Biden said. “When it comes to Spirit Mountain and surrounding ridges and canyons in Southern Nevada, I'm committed to protecting this sacred place that is central to the creation story of so many tribes that are here today.”
But before this initiative was Biden’s baby, it belonged to U.S. Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) who felt it was important to protect a large swath of Nevada land known as “a place of creation” to Native American tribes in Nevada and Arizona, including the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe.
She offered legislation to that effect in January; portions of her bill are anticipated to form the parameters of Biden’s eventual executive action, which is expected to manifest January. Her bill called for a 450,000-acre monument, with boundaries negotiated by tribes, local governments, conservationists and recreational interests.
Indigenous Wire caught up with Titus for an interview soon after Biden’s announcement.
Rob Capriccioso: You had introduced legislation earlier this year to get Spirit Mountain — Avi Kwa Ame — designated as a national monument. Did you know that President Biden was considering doing that as well?
Rep. Titus: Yes. We had been working with the administration at a side by side, so we had hoped to accomplish the goal of saving this area, either through the Antiquities Act or through bill passage.
Capriccioso: In terms of the way the executive action will play out, the exact details haven't been released by the administration. But do you have any insight on whether this executive action will have the same effect and the same boundaries that were proposed under your legislation?
Titus: Well, we are confident that it's going to be basically the same, because we've shared [input] throughout this whole process. But of course, the president has the last say, so it might vary a little here and there, but I don't think it'll be very much. He announced the intention to designate, which was at the summit, which gave us quite a lot of weight and legitimacy. And then he'll come to Nevada sometime early in the new year to have a big signing ceremony for the official designation.
Capriccioso: How did you personally decide to pursue legislation in the first place? I know some tribes in Nevada and Arizona have been pushing for protection of that sacred site for a long time. What motivated you? Was it certain conversations with tribal leaders, or what was the impetus?
Titus: Well, I have a long record for preserving public land.
Titus: Even though my district is the heart of urban Las Vegas. But I was the point person on Tule Springs, on Basin and Range, and on Gold Butte. Those have all been protected. So, it's kind of a natural thing that I would work with the tribes and the environmentalists to create another monument.
Capriccioso: Have you been to the mountain yourself, and do you understand why tribes feel it is sacred?
Titus: Yes, of course I've been out there. And I do understand it, because not only is there evidence of the ancient civilizations with the petroglyphs and some of the relics that have been found out there, but just the peace and beauty of the area. It hits you, and you know it's a sacred place.
Capriccioso: I had the opportunity to talk a couple of times with Sen. Reid when he was with us, and he sometimes liked to chat with me about tribal issues. I wonder if you think he'd be happy with the Spirit Mountain designation?
Titus: Well, saving public lands in Nevada was a priority for him, so I think his spirit is out there as well.
Capriccioso: Could a future administration, if it wanted to, would it be able to undo this kind of executive designation?
Titus: Well, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. I don't think so. Trump tried to cut back Bears Ears and that, but President Biden has restored that. I don't think they could take it away, but they might try to reduce it in size, and then it would be a court matter.
Capriccioso: If it was done legislatively, would it be more protected?
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