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Hundreds Turn Out to Advocate for Chuckwalla National Monument

by Linda Castro, Assistant Policy Director

 

Close to 700 people gathered on Friday, June 14th for a public meeting hosted by the Department of Interior (DOI) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) at the Riverside County Fairgrounds in Indio, California. The meeting, focused on the Chuckwalla National Monument, followed a visit from Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in May of this year. The panel consisted of DOI and BLM officials, including BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning and Jane Rodgers, Superintendent of Joshua Tree National Park who came to hear directly from the community about the proposal.

 

The Chuckwalla National Monument is backed by the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians, the Fort Yuma Quechan Indian Tribe, the Cahuilla Band of Indians, the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe, the Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians, and the Colorado River Indian Tribes. The meeting began with opening remarks from Chairman Thomas Tortez from the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indian Tribe and was later followed by a heartfelt performance by the Bird Singers. Numerous other Tribal leaders voiced their support for the national monument by stressing its cultural impact and its pathway to co-management. President Jordan D. Joaquin, of the Fort Yuma Quechan Indian Tribe, stated, “[…] Our footsteps are etched into the landscape since the beginning of time and we continue to persist in modern time, still providing stewardship over these lands. We are wholeheartedly in support of the proposed Chuckwalla National Monument.”

 

Several elected officials took the stage, including Councilmember Gary Garder from Desert Hot Springs, to voice their support as well. Many attendees wore turquoise shirts in support of the Chuckwalla National Monument which provided an excellent visual representation of the number of supporters in the room. It was evident that the room was filled with passionate individuals who were keen on protecting California’s deserts. Attendees were chosen at random and granted two minutes to make their verbal comment. Over 86% of the speakers at the event expressed their support for protecting this landscape. Our Assistant Policy Director, Linda Castro, being one of them. In her remarks, she highlighted the region’s ties to World War II and emphasized the importance of safeguarding our nation’s history by designating this area as a national monument as well as the new and improved opportunities that the monument would provide for tribal involvement and co-management with the BLM. Other public commentators focused on topics like biodiversity, climate change, and equitable access to nature. While a few attendees did express some concerns, a bulk of those in attendance were enthusiastic about the proposal.

 

The importance of this meeting cannot be understated. It is a testament to the great work of countless individuals and a critical step forward for this campaign. In many ways, it’s a reflection of the thousands of people, many of whom live in the eastern Coachella Valley, who have signed the petition calling on President Biden to use the Antiquities Act to designate the Chuckwalla National Monument, as well as the myriads of other supporters, like businesses and civic organizations, who have joined the movement too. While the importance of California’s deserts is impossible to summarize, one of its most precious qualities is its ability to unite people from all walks of life. It’s incredible that so many people, from diverse backgrounds and interests, came together to advocate for this landscape.

 

We are extremely grateful to everyone who contributed to making this moment a reality, especially Senator Alex Padilla and Congressman Dr. Raul Ruiz for championing this effort. Now, it’s up to President Biden to and designate the Chuckwalla National Monument. Together, we need to keep building our campaign’s momentum until he does.