By Suzanne Potter
This story was originally published by Public News Service
SEARCHLIGHT, Nev. – In honor of Indigenous Peoples Day today, many in Nevada’s Native community are calling for the establishment of a new national monument at Spirit Mountain, known as Avi Kwa Ame, near Searchlight. Multiple tribes derive their creation story from the Avi Kwa Ame area.
Nora McDowell, a project manager for the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe’s Pipa Aha Macav Cultural Center, said the land is her people’s most sacred site.
“The river is our namesake,” she said. “We are the Aha Macav, ‘People of the River.’ The mountains we revere as a place of creation. You could analogize it to the Vatican, Arlington Cemetery, the Wailing Wall. This is our church, this is our place. This is our home.”
On Friday, President Joe Biden restored the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah, which had been shrunk by former President Donald Trump. Searchlight resident Kim Garrison Means, an organizer for Avi Kwa Ame, said Biden’s move has injected new hope into the fight to establish a 380,000-acre monument in southern Nevada.
“This is a promise that our government is making to us,” she said, “and that harkens back to promises that our government has made in the past and not kept.”
Biden also just became the first U.S. president to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day. Stacey Montooth, executive director of the Nevada Indian Commission, said that is a very big deal.
“It is just huge,” she said, “to have the highest elected official recognize that, since the founding of the United States, our federal government has systematically sought to displace and assimilate American Indians.”
Paul Selberg, executive director of the Nevada Conservation League, said the Spirit Mountain area also is important habitat for endangered species and contains culturally significant remnants of the old West.
“There are the tortoises, bighorn sheep, historic mining and pioneer-era artifacts that could be preserved and protected in the area as well,” he said.