GOP Leaders Hold Emergency Meeting On Biden Plan To Take Land For Native Americans

August 8, 2023

By Corinne Murdock |

On Monday, Republican lawmakers held an emergency meeting on President Joe Biden’s plan to take 1.1 million acres of federal public land for Native Americans.

The meeting occurred in the Joint Natural Resources, Energy & Water Committee a day before Biden’s anticipated arrival in Arizona. The president will announce the transition of the land into a national monument during a visit to the Grand Canyon. The lawmakers argued on Monday that the designation would render the land ineligible for vital economic uses such as uranium mining and cattle grazing, as well as limiting recreational opportunities like hunting and fishing.

The 1.1 million acres span the northern and southern borders of the Grand Canyon.

Lawmakers complained that the Department of the Interior (DOI) held a public comment session last month in Coconino County, where reportedly great support for the new monument exists, but not in Mohave County, where reportedly great opposition exists.

In a press release, House Majority Leader Leo Biasucci (R-LD30) pointed out that Mohave County’s opposition should’ve given the federal government more pause.

“Mohave County doesn’t want this monument,” said Biasiucci. “We must give the members of the local community an opportunity to be heard.”

The lawmakers arranged for the emergency meeting in a 72-hour timespan. The three-hour meeting afforded more opportunity for public comment than offered by the federal government. 

Stakeholders, like cattlemen, shared during the meeting that they were left out of the conversation on converting the land. 

District director for Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ-09), Penny Pew, shared that the congressman opposes the monument designation, calling it a “federal land grab.” In his statement, Gosar lamented that 57 percent of Arizona land already exists under federal authority. Gosar revealed that he would work with Reps. Andy Biggs (R-AZ-05) and Eli Crane (R-AZ-02) to review possible actions to curtail the Biden administration’s encroachment, like repealing the Antiquities Act of 1906. 

Pew shared that their review of the actions by the Biden administration had already revealed some red flags with the monument declaration, referencing China’s interest in American reliance for critical minerals used in defense systems. The lands proposed for monument declaration contain one such critical mineral: uranium. Pew cited corruption in relation to the Hunter Biden foreign business dealings without expanding further.

The lands would be designated “Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni Grand Canyon National Monument.” The name combines two phrases from two different tribal languages native to the region: “Baaj Nwaavjo” means “where tribes roam” in Havasupai, and “I’tah Kukveni” means “our ancestral footprints” in Hopi.

Conservationists and tribal member advocates for the monument designation cited the land as “sacred” to Native Americans, and their opposition to the potential damage that uranium mining could have on the land.

As has become increasingly common practice with the Biden administration, Tuesday’s monument designation comes via an executive order circumventing congressional authority. Traditionally, a congressman representing the area would introduce legislation to designate a monument. In this case, that would be Gosar. 

Republican leadership warned that such a unilateral decision by Biden would violate the state’s autonomy under the Statehood Enabling Act. In a press release, State Senate Majority Leader Sonny Borrelli (R-LD30) said that Biden shouldn’t take state land without the legislature’s consent.

“The federal government already controls too much of our land,” said Borrelli. “The President should not be allowed to take away our land and economic opportunities without the consent of the legislature.”

The idea behind the 1.1 million-acre monument came from the Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition in conjunction with the nonprofit conservationist organization Grand Canyon Trust. During a press gaggle on Monday, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre alluded that it was the coalition that prompted the Biden administration to unilaterally declare this monument. 

Among members of the Grand Canyon Trust’s board are key Democratic players at the state and federal level.

Board member Libby Washburn was Biden’s special assistant for White House Council on Native American Affairs until last May, and previously in Obama’s DOI. 

The vice chair of the board, Pam Eaton, also serves as the founder and owner of Green West Energies, a conservation and renewable energy consulting firm, and formerly a longtime leader with the Wilderness Society. Eaton attended the first meetings for the inaugural Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC) in May 2021. The goal of the council is to address environmental injustice and racial inequity. 

There’s Terry Goddard, the longtime Democratic politician behind the controversial dark money ballot proposition and formerly the attorney general for the state, Arizona director of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Phoenix mayor, and president of the National League of Cities. Goddard’s partner in the dark money proposition, David Tedesco, also sits on the board.

There’s also David Bonderman: billionaire founding partner of TGP Capital, minority owner of the NBA’s Boston Celtics, co-founder and co-owner of the NHL’s Seattle Kraken, and special assistant to the U.S. Attorney General during the Kennedy administration. Bonderman also sits on the board of the Wilderness Society and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). In 2014, Bonderman managed to remain on the board of a Russian state-owned investment firm despite economic sanctions placed by the Obama administration.

Bonderman served as an early and hefty donor to the president: he ultimately gave $73,800 to Biden’s campaign. Bonderman also chipped in $5,000 for Biden’s transition team — two months before the election occurred. Bonderman was one of over 3,200 donations totaling over $22.1 million made to Biden’s transition team as early as May 2020. 

Board member Rhea Suh, president and CEO of Marin Community Foundation, formerly served as the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council and, during the Obama administration, assistant secretary for policy, management, and budget in the DOI. 

Another board member, Trudy Vincent, served on the Obama-Biden presidential transition team as the energy and environment lead in 2008. Vincent is now the senior vice president of federal relations in the Office of Civic Engagement at the University of Chicago. 

Former President Barack Obama entertained the idea of designating the Grand Canyon-adjacent lands as a monument, but ultimately relented. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

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