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Public hearing on proposed Grand Canyon area national monument draws hundreds

Hundreds of people gathered in Flagstaff on Tuesday to listen to public comments that overwhelmingly supported the designation of a new national monument surrounding Grand Canyon National Park.

More than 500 people heard from leaders of the tribes and communities that surround the Grand Canyon. They called on the Biden administration to use the Antiquities Act to designate the monument during this hearing convened by the departments of the Interior and Agriculture.

Candelora Lehi is vice president of the San Juan Southern Paiute tribe. 

"We are about about 20 miles east of Grand Canyon, if you cut straight across, we live right on the other side by the Echo Cliffs area," she described.

Lehi wants the designation that would create Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni Grand Canyon National Monument for many reasons. 

"It would also protect our what we say we have emergence. Like the rest of the tribes, we say we came from. But not only do we come but at the end of our life, we go back to," she said.

The designation would protect about 1.1 million acres of land surrounding the Grand Canyon. Flagstaff and Coconino County leaders who’ve expressed their support for the designation also spoke in favor.

Energy Fuels produces uranium and has about a half-dozen uranium deposits in the area. 

"The problem with the monument proposal is that all the science, all the facts, shows that these mines can be mined totally safely," said Curtis more, vice president of marketing for Energy Fuels.

A representative for Arizona Republican Congressman Paul Gosar called the proposed designation a "land grab" by the Biden administration.

Tribal leaders spoke to the area’s deep significance and the need to protect it from uranium mining while city and county leaders voiced their support.

"The Flagstaff City Council values our relationship with our our Indigenous friends and neighbors and support their work and advocacy toward the creation of this monument," said Flagstaff Mayor Becky Daggett.

The hearing was held as Arizona’s senators introduced legislation supporting the monument.

Fronteras Desk senior editor Michel Marizco is an award-winning investigative reporter based in Flagstaff.