By Tamara Jager Stewart
Standing in the shadow of the jagged Avi Kwa Ame peaks looking west, the vast, complex desert landscape holds deep canyons with natural springs and petroglyphs, rare grassland habitats, ancient Joshua tree forests, unusual quartz-lined pathways, camp sites, rock shelters, and other cultural sites that attest to the thousands of years that Native Colorado River people have thrived in this harsh environment. At the confluence of the Mojave and Sonoran deserts in southern Nevada, more than half a million acres containing ancestral lands sacred to 10 Yuman-speaking tribes as well as the Hopi and the Chemehuevi Paiute, were designated a national monument this past March following decades of tribal efforts. Joined by conservationists, local residents, off-road vehicle enthusiasts, and local, state, and federal governments, tribal members’ efforts finally paid off when U.S. President Joe Biden used the 1906 Antiquities Act to proclaim this vast area adjacent to the Colorado River a national monument.
Avi Kwa Ame (which translates from Mojave to “Spirit Mountain”), the tallest peak in the Newberry Mountains, is the centerpiece of the new monument. The designation of Avi Kwa Ame as a national monument makes it Nevada’s fourth monument and a critical connector of protected areas to the west including California’s Mojave Wilderness, Castle Mountain National Monument, Mojave National Preserve, and Mojave Trails National Monument, and to the east, Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
For the Fort Mojave (known as Pipa Aha Macav, “The People by the River”), this landscape is their most sacred. The closest of the Colorado River tribes to this sacred mountain and surrounding ritual landscape, the Fort Mojave consider themselves its caretakers. The mountain and surrounding valleys and ranges are also highly significant to the Chemehuevi (Southern Paiute), Cocopah, Halchidhoma, Havasupai, Hopi, Hualapai, Kumeyaay, Maricopa, Pai Pai, Quechan, Yavapai, and Zuni Tribes.