The Save the Confluence group, which consists of community members from Bodaway-Gap, Ariz., and surrounding communities, made a report on the proposed Grand Canyon Escalade Project to Naabi. An unexpected addition to their report came from Hopi Chairman Honanie. The Hopi Tribe has taken an official position opposing the proposed Escalade Project.
After a long and heated debate about adding Hopi Chairman Honanie’s comment to the Save the Confluence report, the Naabik’iyati Committee decided not to include Honanie’s statement. The Committee did vote to accept the report on the proposed Escalade Project from the Save the Confluence representatives.
The following is a statement made by Save the Confluence representative Dee Wilson-Aguirre to the Naabik’iyati Committee on June 13, 2014.
“Two generations of Navajo families were forced in exile because of the Bennett Freeze. The families could not return to the land because there was nothing. The people who were important to the landscape were gone. They were not there.
G”ood morning, honorable members of the Navajo Nation’s Naa’bik’iyati’ committee. My name is DWA, I live in Tuba City but home is at Southern Bodaway, AZ. I am of the Deer spring/Bitter water and born for Black streak wood. My maternal grandmother is Towering House and my paternal grandfather is Near the water. Thank you for allowing my family, relatives, stakeholders of southern Bodaway, Hopi Tribe and me to come before you to speak to you about how we are impacted by the proposed Grand Canyon escalade.
“The Bennett Freeze was lifted in May of 2009. But before the people could return and rebuild the land, the Bodaway/Gap Chapter, the Navajo Nation and developers who are strangers, who were uncaring to the people who were displaced from the land for two generations, stormed in and said, we want to take this land back ourselves so we could make money off of it. Forget the people who called this place home. There were no consent from grazing permit holders. We provided a list of 30 grazing permit holders who opposed the escalade project to the legislative office. If you would like a copy we will provide you one.
“The campaign is on a fast track and this project is questionable. For example on June 10, 2014, according to the Confluence Partners website page it reads a final package of legislation was delivered to Navajo Nation Legislative Office. From there it has moved on to the Speakers office and being assigned a legislation number. Is this true? It also states Confluence Partners have been conducting high level negotiations with Navajo Nation for over a year now. Is this true? There was no update provided at the Bodaway/Gap chapter meeting on May 29, 2014. The chapter president Perry Slim, Sr. stated there have been no reports back to the chapter concerning the escalade project. We have organized to protest this project because:
“The 59 to 52 vote is too close to say who won. Many registered voters were not counted because they were told they don’t live there. One had a homesite lease and registered voter. Another had just registered to vote in Bodaway one day prior. The vote of an Afghanistan veteran was not counted. A Hopi member’s vote was counted for the project. Many of the registered voters filed their complaints with the ethics and rules committee, which has not been addressed. We have consulted with attorneys and DNA Legal Services. If this should go through Council we are ready to file a lawsuit.
“A member of our group collected a majority of the 2,700 signatures on a petition that asks you, the Navajo Nation Council, to vote against the Escalade. The signatures include Navajo Nation presidential candidates Duane Chili Yazzie, Russell Begay, Myron McLaughlin, Carrie Lynn Martin Arizona State Senator Carlyle Begay, Jamescita Peshlakai, Tuba City Council Delegate candidate Otto Tso and Bodaway/Gap candidate Darlene Martin. The Confluence Partners told the Navajo Times in 2012 they had 2,700 signatures, which we have not seen. But, we shared ours with you.
“I, like many people here, have roots and ties to the area in western Navajo Nation, the Confluence/Toh Ahiidee Dlii, Where the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers meet one is female and other is male. When they meet they make life. This tram will tear into the heart of our religion. We depend on the fragile vegetation at the Confluence. The area has yucca, which we use to cleanse ourselves during the final day of a Blessing Way. A field of white flowers grows in the area, which is used to heal the eye. Boiled sage to calm ulcers. Our Navajo faith, Hozho requires balance. The area is already overgrazed why should other people stump on them further and will pollute the area with bad air and noise. People still live out there; their livestock are still out there and call that home.
“With this particular project chapter members and stake holders of the Confluence will be forgotten and will not receive water, electricity and homes that were promised to them. In fact, the escalade should not even be a plan for the Bodaway/Gap it has torn relatives, friends and families apart.
“We are here today to ask you as our leaders to give this decision back to the people of Southern Bodaway. Give the people a chance to determine what they want on the land instead of developers, strangers we do not know. We know who the stakeholders are from Southern Bodaway. Before Deswood Tome and Confluence Partners came along people wanted to reclaim the land. It will cost the NN a lot money about $300 or $500 million, this is very pricey. We don’t know who the investors are. Where is the feasibility study? There is lack of environmental impact statement, which studies air and water impact.
“I am asking you to speak for the people, make a difference here. Put a stop to this non sense shi natanis/my leaders. We ask you to reject the Grand Canyon Escalade because they tore Bodaway/Gap people apart. We respectfully ask you to return the major decision, whether to develop or not develop, back to the stakeholders. We ask you to Save the Confluence and its people, who have been trying to make a home there since they were exiled. Help them rebuild their homes there. Bring all stake holders back who are opposing and see what they want. Everyone knows who lives there, it’s not just 30 people, it’s more than two generations. The elders are leaving but the children and grandchildren are still here. It’s been a long hard Journey and we have suffered enough. We want justice, we want to be heard and we want protection for sacred sites. Ahe’heeh/Thank you.”
The following is an editorial from High Country News that does a great job of summarizing the Escalade Project and the opposition to it.
“Let’s not bring Las Vegas to Grand Canyon”
Critique of a developer’s plan to haul tourists on a tramway to the Colorado River.
Last June I was lucky enough to join a raft trip through the Grand Canyon. The experience was extraordinary.
The river was a cold, clear green, the result of Glen Canyon Dam holding back its silt. A couple of days and 62 miles into our float journey, we arrived at a magical place known as the Confluence, where the Little Colorado and Colorado rivers meet, a place that’s been designated a world heritage site. There, a sweep of layered, multi-colored stone steps away in mesas toward the canyon rim, 4,000 feet above us and less than a mile away. It is a view comparable to a cathedral’s brilliant red and blue windows.
But there are plans to “improve” it. We knew that up on the rim over our heads, a $120 million resort, Grand Canyon Escalade, is slated for construction by Confluence Partners LLC. The plans are ambitious, starting with a tramway to haul tourists down to the river. Once there, visitors would be able to stroll a third of a mile on an elevated river-walk to a restaurant, amphitheater and seating area, directly overlooking the Little Colorado River.
Though the development group is not Navajo, the tribe controls the decision to allow this project. The land in question borders Grand Canyon National Park but is within the Bodaway/Gap Chapter of the Navajo Reservation. Bodaway/Gap chapter members initially opposed the development, but a vote count taken at a later, more contentious meeting reversed that decision. Meanwhile, all of the surrounding chapters, such as Coal Mine, Kaibeto, Tuba City and Cameron, have passed resolutions opposing the tramway and its associated tourist attractions.
What would this development seem like from inside the Grand Canyon? At Mile 62, several days into a river trip, it would be like encountering Las Vegas-style entertainment and crowds of people. Developers say visitors need this choice because so many are unable to hike or ride a mule down to the river. They also argue that tourists these days are in a hurry and need the convenience and speed of flying to the reservation, and then riding a tram down to the river and back.
Developers have not spelled out the tribe’s share of the profits if the deal goes through. It has been reported, however, that the Navajo Nation will be required to contribute $60 million upfront to build a road and the infrastructure needed to bring electricity and water to the rim.
Who opposes this scheme? Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent David Uberuaga has gone on record as an opponent, citing resource degradation from the construction and tourist traffic afterward. Yet, there is nothing the Park Service can do to prevent it; the casino and theme park would be built outside park borders.
Opponents within the reservation may have some clout, however. The Navajo families known as the Fams, who own grazing rights on the rim overlooking the confluence, are opposed to the tramway development.The Fams have formed “Save the Confluence,” an organization that warns that a “fragile ecosystem is at stake as well as the traditional lifestyle of current residents.”
Additional opposition has arisen from the Navajos’ closest neighbor, the Hopi Tribe. In a unanimous Council resolution, the Hopis stated that they will sue the Navajo Nation for desecration of a sacred site if the proposal moves forward.
Many environmental groups are opposed as well. Tom Martin, co-director of River Runners for Wilderness, says, “This is sacred ground to all of us on this planet, and we are following the lead of those Native Americans who seek a tramway-free canyon as a way to earn a living in this region based on preserving the sacredness of the land.”
Last summer, as we got back on our boats and headed downriver, I looked up at the towering walls above the confluence and hoped that what I experienced — unspoiled beauty, silence — would remain forever, untarnished by anybody’s notion of a Vegas-style theme park. Theodore Roosevelt expressed it best 111 years ago: “Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity, and loveliness. You cannot improve on it.”
Carolyn Hopper is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News. She is a freelance photographer and writer in Bozeman, Montana.