Biden Designates Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument

  • Mandela van Eeden, National Wildlife Federation
  • Aug 10, 2023

More than 120 years ago, President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Grand Canyon and marveled at its natural wonders. “Leave it as it is. You cannot improve upon it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it,” he said. 

Roosevelt, who was an avid hunter and outdoorsman, not only appreciated its beauty, but he recognized that the area surrounding the Grand Canyon had robust big-game populations and was a hunter’s paradise. In 1908, Roosevelt proclaimed the Grand Canyon a national monument to safeguard it for future generations and eight years later, it became a national park.

I was thinking of Roosevelt as I watched President Biden declare a new national monument on nearly a million acres that surround the Grand Canyon National Park and I have to believe he would have been pleased to hear that this new monument continues that legacy and prioritizes access for wildlife management and the heritage of hunting in the area. In fact, President Biden used the very tool that Roosevelt signed into law – the Antiquities Act – to create the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument.

Hunters enjoying their public lands around Grand Canyon. Picture taken by Amy Martin.

The monument protects these lands from uranium mining, which has had a devastating impact on the health of Indigenous communities, wildlife, and the lands and waters themselves. The designation resulted from the hard work and leadership of the Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition, along with community leaders, hunters, anglers and other outdoor recreationists.

As I watched the ceremony honoring the new monument, I also felt a sense of pride for the small part I helped to play in its designation. Two years ago, I away from guiding river trips full-time in the Grand Canyon to play a larger role in protecting it.  The transition from guiding 250 days a year to rowing a desk 40 hours a week for the National Wildlife Federation has been an adjustment. But seeing long-sought conservation goals achieved has felt immensely rewarding.

The highlight of my Grand Canyon advocacy occurred two months ago when I joined my colleagues at the Arizona Wildlife Federation and other conservation groups in Washington, D.C. to urge the Biden Administration to designate a national monument around the Grand Canyon. We came on behalf of a much larger group of local elected officials, sporting groups, military veterans, recreationists, guides, conservationists, and local and national businesses. 

The Grand Canyon Coalition speaking at the DOI in June 2023.

It was an honor to officially represent Grand Canyon River Guides Association alongside Grand Canyon Trust, Trout Unlimited, HECHO, Chispa AZ, Coconino County, and the Arizona Faith Network. We each brought a unique perspective and had the opportunity to elaborate on why we felt strongly about permanent protections. 

My focus was on the recreational economics and springs hydrology of the Colorado River; I used science-based data, pictures, and tribal art to impress upon the audience the importance of protecting this landscape to the nation. I shared that I have relied on my income from guiding for over a decade, as well as my first-hand knowledge of many small businesses associated with commercial river trips and outfitters. 

“The new protections will safeguard important recreation areas so that future generations can to continue to hunt, fish, hike, and raft on the lands and waters that surround this great natural wonder.” -Scott Garlid, Arizona Wildlife Federation.

The Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition standing with President Biden after the designation became official.

The National Park Service reported that 4.5 million people visited Grand Canyon in 2021 spending an estimated $710 million in the gateway regions near the park. That visitation supported 9,390 jobs in the region. According to a 2021 Backcountry and River Use Statistics report, Grand Canyon River Guides take 19,000 to 24,000 people down the Colorado River each year. On an annual basis, this contributes $90-$120 million dollars to the Grand Canyon recreation economy.

The new national monument was designed to allow thoughtful, balanced land management so that wildlife can thrive, the lands and waters are protected from toxic mining, and yet hunting, fishing, rafting, and other recreation can be actively enjoyed. 

As I reflect on all of the work that went into the new monument designation, I am so grateful. I am also re-energized to continue fighting to safeguard other public lands and waters, the wildlife populations, and the sporting and recreational opportunities that we are lucky enough to enjoy. 

Mandela is an educator and conservationist who has worked as an international adventure guide in Africa, New Zealand, Alaska, Idaho, and the Grand Canyon. She is passionate and actively involved with conservation issues on every continent. She does this both professionally and during her spare time with the National Wildlife Federation, the Arizona Wildlife Federation, and on the board of directors for the Montana Wildlife Federation. You can connect with her via, and listen to her podcast, “The Trail Less Traveled,” everywhere.

Mandela van Eeden guiding a two week river expedition in the Grand Canyon.

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