31 March 2023
Like many Nevadans and as a former state senator, I believe that the designation of Avi Kwa Ame as a national monument is an excellent addition to the protected areas in my home state and a beautiful example of conservation in Nevada. The Fort Mojave and other Native American tribes from the area have done a remarkable job advocating and influencing this vital movement for the conservation of this land.
The Monumental Shift coalition, a platform for people including Black, Indigenous, Hispanic and other marginalized populations to share and contribute to conservation in an authentic and significant way, advocated for the designation of Avi Kwa Ame, or Spirit Mountain, in Nevada and Castner Range in Texas as national monuments.
I am pleased that President Joe Biden listened to the request for the urgent protection of Avi Kwa Ame and Castner Range and used his authority granted by the Antiquities Act to designate them national monuments, both supported by Indigenous peoples, Hispanic communities, local lawmakers, sportsmen and women, among many others.
The Antiquities Act has great value to our country and our communities, but only if it is used equitably and with the right decision-makers at the table.
When it comes to federal public lands, conservation means many things to many people. In the West, time-tested methods of conservation have been practiced by Indigenous and Hispanic communities for centuries in a sustainable way without taking more than is needed.
We hunted, fished and adapted equitable sharing of water resources, for example, the traditional and sustainable water irrigation and management system of Acequias, without driving vital species to the verge of extinction or straining or poisoning our waterways.
By the actions of others, in the early 1900s, the American Bison herds were decimated and reduced to near extinction. Grizzly bears and wolves were all but erased from the Southwest. Our tribal brothers and sisters were stripped of their culture and place and forced into reservations on land that was less than desirable. This is how we all came to have public lands, including national monuments and parks in the first place. It is a history that we must reckon with.
When people like Teddy Roosevelt and Aldo Leopold came to this region, modern American conservation took on a whole other definition. Realizing the damage that was left in the wake of manifest destiny, conservation literally meant saving ourselves from ourselves. And so, national forests were established to stop the timber barons from taking every tree. National parks were established to preserve wild places in their natural state and to provide respite for the affluent who wanted to visit and experience nature.
Indigenous people were violently forced to adapt to the new normal and survive instead of thriving as they had for centuries prior to the arrival of those who came to stake claims on these lands. Fast forward a hundred years to the establishment of organizations whose mission is to conserve and protect what should have never been disturbed or destroyed. Organizations powerful enough to affect policy and move Congress and administrations to create wilderness areas, wildlife protection areas, national monuments and other forms of protected areas.
While environmental organizations are extremely important, there has always been disparity and exclusion of people of color within the conservation arena. Recently an epiphany among conservation organizations has caused a long overdue engagement of Indigenous and Hispanic people who have been practicing conservation since time immemorial without knowing the potential of their contributions to the conservation movement. This new reality inspired the establishment of Monumental Shift.
As a HECHO advisory board member and former Nevada state legislator, I strongly support the creation of coalitions, like Monumental Shift, that will help us protect lands of cultural, historical and ecological significance, while ensuring that local voices are not just amplified but have seats at the decision-making table.
I urge the Biden administration and the Department of Interior to heed the calls from this new generation of conservationists.
Mo Denis is a former state senator and is an advisory board member of Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting and the Outdoors.