Washington, D.C. – Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) today introduced the Great Bend of the Gila Conservation Act to protect one of the most culturally significant and ecologically fragile landscapes in the southwestern United States. The bill will establish the 330,000-acre Great Bend of the Gila National Conservation Area, the 47,000-acre Paolo Verde National Conservation Area, and nearly 60,000 acres of new wilderness.
The full text of the bill is available here.
A fact sheet on the bill is available here.
The area designated by the Great Bend of the Gila Conservation Act, located in the Sonoran Desert in southwestern Arizona, includes numerous cultural, historical, and natural resources, many of which are considered sacred to Native Americans in the area. At least 13 federally recognized tribes retain cultural connections to this landscape. For thousands of years, the Great Bend of the Gila was a meeting point for diverse peoples and cultures, who built villages, cultivated the landscape through innovative irrigation canals, and left countless petroglyphs and other forms of rock art.
“The Great Bend of the Gila Conservation Act represents nearly a decade of work, not just by me, but by the tribes and Indigenous communities who consider the Great Bend sacred,” Chair Grijalva said. “Together, we crafted legislation that will be clear and purposeful in making tribal and Indigenous involvement critical to the stewardship of these public lands and special places. The Inter-Tribal Commission at Bears Ears National Monument is setting the standard for what tribal co-management of public lands can be—this bill will expand that legacy to southern Arizona, and I couldn’t be prouder. I’m grateful to the tribes who have helped shape this legislation and I hope my colleagues will honor that work by supporting this bill.”
The Great Bend of the Gila Conservation will protect the Great Bend of the Gila from further degradation, limit destructive development of roads, withdraw lands from new mineral development, and require the development of new management plans to prevent resource damage. The legislation honors commitments to restore both ecological integrities and tribal nations’ sovereign interests in the proper treatment and management of public lands. The bill also significantly enhances the role of tribes in the stewardship of the newly established site, and explicitly incorporates tribal cultural resources protection and Indigenous uses as a core function of the Great Bend of the Gila National Conservation Area.
Statements of Support
The bill is supported by multiple tribes, including the Gila River Indian Community, the Cocopah Indian Tribe, Tohono O’odham Nation, and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, as well as The Wilderness Society and Archaeology Southwest.
“The Tohono O’odham Nation applauds House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva’s leadership in introducing the Great Bend of the Gila Conservation Act. This legislation will provide the Nation and other Native communities with a more direct voice in the management of ancestral homelands that are now controlled exclusively by the federal government. This Act will help provide better protection for sacred sites and places of cultural importance to the O’odham, and better reflect the importance of the lands to the people who originally called them home. We thank Chairman Grijalva and look forward to working with Congress on this important effort.” – Chairman Ned Norris Jr., Tohono O’odham Nation
“The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (SRPMIC) emphatically support the Great Bend of the Gila Conservation Act. The proposed legislation not only will establish two new conservation areas, protecting cultural heritage lands, important to our People (the O’Odham), it also ensures that associated tribal governments be consulted on the co-management of the designated lands. Tribes will become equal partners in how to treat these historical and cultural areas so they are sustained and respected for generations to come.” – Martin Harvier, President, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.
“The bill introduced by Representative Raul Grijalva to establish the Great Bend of the Gila National Conservation Area in the State of Arizona represents a tremendous opportunity to preserve a hugely important cultural, historical, and environmental landscape for future generations. This area has been occupied by our ancestors since time immemorial as is seen by our imprint on the land. The great Bend of the Gila represents thousands of years of trade, agriculture, art, sports, conservation, and ceremony.
The traces of our ancestors can be found in countless places in these lands, but these cultural landscapes face growing threats from looting, vandalism, and accidental destruction as more and more people venture into the desert from growing urbanized areas. The establishment of a National Conservation Area and administration in cooperation with a tribal advisory committee will help create the tools and oversight to ensure the protection of this priceless landscape not only for future generations of Cocopahs, but also for all Americans.” — Cocopah Indian Tribe
“We commend and thank Congressman Grijalva for introducing this bill to protect this critically important cultural and ecological landscape. Permanent protection of the irreplaceable natural and cultural values of the Great Bend of the Gila landscape will help safeguard these fragile lands and ensure that all can experience these places for generations.” — Mike Quigley, Arizona State Director, The Wilderness Society.
“We join our coalition partners in extending our thanks to Representative Grijalva for his longtime commitment to the Great Bend of the Gila, his attention to the Tribal Nations who have ongoing ties to this landscape, and his continuing vision in sponsoring this legislation. This is a globally significant landscape—invaluable and fragile. It preserves real human stories and Indigenous knowledge spanning millennia. Permanent protection will bring greater recognition, respectful visitation, and broad celebration.” — Bill Doelle, President and CEO, Archaeology Southwest
“One of the scripture passages that I love most is from the Psalms, where it says, ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.’ This is God’s earth and we are placed here as stewards with the responsibility of caring for it. This bill is one way we act on that responsibility.” — Rev. Doug Bland, Director, Arizona Interfaith Power & Light.
“The Great Bend of the Gila is a truly special landscape, steeped in history, culture, and natural beauty. In recent decades, the region has experienced aridification and development that threaten to wrest this fragile landscape and historical tapestry from our collective awe and enjoyment. We must do our part to preserve this legacy for future generations.” — Dax Hansen, Owner, Historic Oatman Flats Ranch, the first Regenerative Organic Certified farm in the U.S. Southwest.
“We are honored to be part of this effort to protect the Great Bend of the Gila and support the Tribes with connections to this region in protecting the cultural and ecological values of this river valley and the surrounding Sonoran Desert. Keeping intact landscapes in this region is critical for wildlife, including desert bighorn sheep and desert tortoises, and will help to keep it more resilient to the impacts of climate change.” — Sandy Bahr, Director, Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon (Arizona) Chapter.
“As one of the coordinators for the Respect Great Bend campaign I have spent ample time in the Great Bend of the Gila, and can personally attest to its layered and multifaceted beauty. This place was, and is, home to Indigenous Peoples and to plant and animal relatives. In my role, I have seen passionate support for the protection of these values from Tribes, conservation organizations, local residents, as well as people all over the Southwest. The Respect Great Bend Coalition thanks Representative Grijalva for his leadership in getting this place permanently protected.” — Skylar Begay, Coordinator, Respect Great Bend
“Chispa AZ is happy to support our indigenous relatives who have been calling for the protection of sacred lands such as The Great Bend of the Gila. Although Arizona is lucky to have a great deal of public land, these lands are not necessarily ‘protected’ nor guaranteed to remain ‘public.’ Public lands are important for the preservation of history and critical to understanding the rich diversity of our state’s stories, and the experiences of indigenous, Latinx and other communities. For some of our families, a connection to public lands is a connection to their heritage and a place to pass down memories and stories. We thank Representative Grijalva for his support and heeding the call of Tribes to not only protect these sacred spaces but to also center indigenous voices in how this land and their legacies are managed in perpetuity. We ask that congress also hear the call of the original caretakers of this land and protect The Great Bend of the Gila.” — Chispa AZ
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