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Tribal leaders call on President Biden to protect sacred lands in the Mountain West

This is a brown and green mountainous landscape with a river snaking through a canyon on a partly cloudy day.
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Dolores Canyons in western Colorado is one of the sacred lands that Western tribes and conservationists are calling on the Biden administration to designate as a national monument.

A coalition of Western conservationists and tribes are working to protect more public lands before the November presidential election.

The coalition was joined by members of Congress in front of the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. They called on the Biden administration to expand and designate more national monuments, which are permanently protected lands.

That includes an effort to create the Bahsahwahbee - Swamp Cedars National Monument in eastern Nevada, which would protect 27,000 acres of land crucial to the Western Shoshone and Goshute people. These lands are a place of ceremonial and religious gathering as well as the site of three massacres (in 1859, 1863, and 1897), which killed an estimated 1,000 Newe people.

Another effort is to conserve nearly 400,000 acres of public lands in western Colorado as the Dolores Canyons National Monument. It’s the ancestral land and territory of the Ute people and has a connection to the Pueblos of New Mexico, Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation.

The majority of the national monuments being proposed for expansion or designation are in California, including calls for creating the Chuckwalla, Sáttítla, and Kw'tsán national monuments.

“This is our history book,” Councilman Donald Medart of the Fort Yuma Quechan Indian Tribe said during the press conference Tuesday. “To be able to go out into the desert, to show my children and to show other tribal members and community members this is who the Quechan people are, this is where we came from, these are lands that we traverse, these are what our songs talk about, it gives it that much more meaning to our people.”

In all, the coalition is pushing for 11 new or expanded protected lands. The group presented a petition of more than 800,000 signatures in support of their efforts.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.

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