Sharpe to the Point: Arizona’s New Million-Acre National Monument

Jim SharpeSeptember 1, 2023
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I grew up near the Grand Canyon – “near” in Northern Arizona terms, mind you – but I didn’t see it for the first time until I was in my teens. I’m glad I didn’t react to it in the eye-rolling, dismissive way many teens do, and I’m glad that my 8- and 10-year-old daughters reacted with appropriate awe when I took them there in July. 

We entered the park from the east – via the Navajo Nation – so we could maintain our yearly tradition of buying Native jewelry on the “rez,” where I spent several years of my youth. (It’s the only place I let them buy it.) 

But when President Joe Biden visited the canyon a few weeks later, he grabbed a lot more than some bracelets: He declared the creation of a new, million-acre national monument adjacent to the Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP). 

That newly designated federal land, the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument (BNIKAFGCNM), has me arguing with myself – and not because it’s so hard to pronounce. As an Arizonan, I want the canyon protected, and as a dad, I want clean water. They sound like compatible concerns – but they actually give me dueling feelings about the BNIKAFGCNM. 

Ostensibly, the monument was created to keep the canyon safe from uranium mining. Tribal leaders and environmentalists say uranium mining could threaten aquifers and water supplies. The Environmentalist Dad part of me respects that.  

The bilagáana (white rez boy) side of me agrees, “Beyond water, this new national monument will also protect Native historical sites from development,” he says.

Clarinda Vail, the mayor of tiny Tusayan, Arizona – which will be completely surrounded by the BNIKAFGCNM (the letters alone are big enough to surround the town) – told me on KTAR 92.3 FM that the new monument fits her town’s tourist-driven economy.

Ah, but here is where Environmentalist Dad has an issue: “If we’re going to reject uranium mining and not make nuclear power a bigger part of our green energy policy, isn’t the dream of an America with no tailpipes still a pipe dream? At least without dirtying up our water and air? Because there’s not nearly enough solar and wind online right now to manufacture and power all the electric vehicles Joe Biden envisions. So, we’ll have to keep burning fossil fuels.”

Saving the canyon and saving the environment. Both are important. But like most solutions flowing from the feds, the BNIKAFGCNM looks a lot like The Hulk trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube. 

Through all this high-minded chatter, the Northern Arizona Libertarian Boy part of me speaks up: “Putting another million acres under strict-use rules is a giant overreach!” He just hates the idea that about 50 million acres (of the 72 million acres that constitute Arizona) is under some form of federal control. 

Can’t we stop the mining without the feds seizing a chunk of land that’s bigger than Rhode Island?