As the Navajo Council’s Naabik’iyati Committee was adopting its agenda, Committee member Delegate Jonathan Hale asked for the Confluence Partners to be given 30 minutes, instead of 15 minutes, to make their report on the their proposed Escalade Project at the Grand Canyon Confluence to the Committee.
Committee Chairperson Edmund Yazzie responded that Speaker Pro Temp LoRenzo Bates had set a 15 minute time limit for all reports.
Yazzie then calls for the Committee to vote on its agenda. The vote was 13 in favor, 0 opposed.
After the vote, Yazzie calls for the first report, which is from Confluence Partners Legal Advisor, Albert Hale, a former Navajo Nation president, former Arizona senator, and current Arizona representative.
Hale introduces himself in the Navajo way and then he introduces the other Confluences Partners sitting with him. On Hale’s right is Mike Lee, architect for Confluence Partners. On Hale’s left is Keith A. Lamparter, design & construction manager, and to the left of Lamparter is R. Lamar Whitmer, managing partner.
Hale clarifies that the project is called the “Grand Canyon Escalade Project,” which is about 30 miles west of Tuba City, Ariz., and within the Gap-Bodaway community.
The project overlooks the Grand Canyon Confluence, where the Little Colorado and Colorado Rivers meet, he adds. Up, on top of the rim.
Hale then asks about the status of a power point presentation that the Partners want the Council to see so they can see exactly where the Project would be located.
As the Partners wait for their film to be setup, Hale says that there is only one home about seven miles from the Project location.
“So within the project site, there is hardly anybody living there,” he says. “But there’s nobody living there.”
Hale explains that the Project consists of a gondola tram that is similar to a ski lift. The gondola will take visitors from the canyon rim to just above the canyon floor, he adds.
He says the location will have a number of buildings on the 420 acres of the proposed project, which include a Discovery Center, where we have the capability to tell the story of not only Navajo people and the Indigenous people of the area but how these areas are part of the Navajo stories and stories of other Indian Nations with that area.
There will also be a hotel, RV Park, gas station, restaurants, and other buildings, Hale says.
“So I’m only talking about 420 acres,” he emphasizes. “In case you are wondering when this project came into fruition, it was brought to my attention in 1997 when I was president of the Navajo Nation. However any further discussion of that was delayed because that area was given to the Bennett Freeze due to the land dispute with the Hopi Nation. Since then in 2009, the Bennett Freeze was lifted.
“And while we appreciate the Hopis concern, as you’ll note later on as the presentation will show, there are no sacred sites within this 420 acres, either Hopi or Navajo Nation or Navajo people’s sacred sites,” Hale notes. “Since the lifting of the Freeze, we’ve been working with the Navajo Nation Negotiation Team and that consisted of a representative from Navajo Department of Justice Henry Howe: and a person that is hired by the Navajo Department of Justice out of a Phoenix law firm, Judy Burgen (sp); and of course the director of the Division of Economic Development Al Damon; and a representative from the President’s Office, Deswood Tom.
“And for the last two years, we’ve been negotiating and have finished negotiating the agreements. There are three agreements and they’re ready for presentation into the legislative process. And at some point, they’ll come to you, hopefully fairly soon,” Hale said.
He then compared the Escalade Project to the Hualapai Tribe’s Sky Walk, which is successful and draws tourists from all over the world. He added that he attended the Walk’s grand opening.
“I submit to you that Navajos can do better,” Hale says as he hands the presentation to Confluence Partners Mike Lee, architect, who says that he’s been affiliated with the POLYNESIAN CULTURAL CENTER for some years.
“In that regard, we have had some of the same issues there as you currently face,” Lee says. “However we talk about culture of a people and build their story so that the world can know about it, today we’re going to show you a film which is talking about the culture of the Hawaiian people and moreover the Polynesian people.
“As you look at the film I hope you see some parallels, some similarities with the kinds of issues and problems that perhaps may concern you today,” he adds. “This is an IMAX film .Many of the things that you experience at the actual venue are different that we can portray here because the seats move, there is water, there is a spray, there is smell, so on.”
The Confluence Partners start showing “Hawaiian Journey,” which is cut short by Naabik’iyati Committee Chairperson Pro Temp Edmund Yazzie because of time.
Confluence Partners architect Mike Lee says that he’s often asked by “people like you” ask “how do we protect this place that is special to us? And we respond, How is it special? Inevitably they say, It is beautiful. Their friends and animals live there that we want to protect. There are many reasons. Sometimes religious reasons why we want to protect the place.”
Lee adds, “And I say to them, Do you really want to know how to protect this place? They say, Yes. And I say, if you want to protect the place, interpret the place. Let me know, as a white guy coming from out of town why you feel the way you do about this place. And if you can do that, the world will also know why this is a special place. That is what is being proposed. The types of activities that will happen here will be of a sort that will allow people to understand that it’s a special place.”
After Lee’s presentation, Confluence Partners legal advisor Albert Hale introduces Confluence Partners design & construction manager Keith A. Lamparter, but before Lamparter speaks, Naabik’iyati Committee Chairperson Pro Temp Edmund Yazzie reminds Hale of the 15-minute report and Hale asks how much time they have. Yazzie says that the Partners have used about 20 minutes.
Hale asks to make closing statement and then introduces people from Bodaway-Gap, whom he says have given the Partners a supporting resolution.
He compares the Bodaway-Gap community to other communities on the Navajo Reservation and in Indian County.
“You have the highest unemployment rate in these communities and Gap and Bodaway is no different,” Hale emphasizes. “You have the highest rate of teen pregnancy in this community. You have the highest dropout rate in this community. You have the highest suicide rate in this community. You have the highest unemployment rate, somewhere around 72 percent. You have the highest rate due to alcohol in this community.
“And it is true throughout Indian Country that these types of statistics are also prevalent,” he notes. “And it also should be of no surprise to you that Native American youth who are in federal detention are three times above the national average. The most at risk population in the United States is Native Americans between the ages of 15 to 24 years.
“So it’s imperative as leaders of our people of our nation to look for solutions to help our youth,” Hale says. “The future of our nation, the future of our people depends on finding solutions. And to address a lot of these issues, these are the projects, these types, this is one of the projects that is a type that will move us in that direction.
“And I urge you to take a look at this,” he says. “Ask questions. And approach us with an open mind. And we have further handouts and I was going to turn the floor over to Keith who was going to give you some information about sacred sites that we have identified in our due diligence.
“However with the time limitation, we’re not going to do that but we are available to meet with you individually and give you this information and give you more information about the project in detail,” Hale says.. “And how the nation is going to own everything that is built there and how the CP, Confluence Partners, will be managing that and what our role is as the managing partner, what the role is of the Navajo Nation, and what the role is of the hospitality enterprise, who will part of this whole effort. So that’s all spelled out in the agreements.
“And we’ll be glad to do a presentation on those agreements when the time comes and when we don’t have a time limitation,” he notes. “So with that fearless leaders of the Navajo Nation, I thank you very much for giving us this opportunity and present a little bit about the project. Thank you.”
After Hale speaks, people in the gallery applaud. Naabik’iyati Committee Chairperson Pro Temp Yazzie asks the people to respect Council chamber protocol and not applaud or speak.
As Yazzie calls for a motion and second from the Committee, he realizes that there is no quorum.
After the Committee gets a quorum, Delegate George Apachito makes the motion, which is finally seconded by Delegate Roscoe Smith.
Committee member Delegate Lorenzo Curley is the first delegate to ask a question of the Confluence Partners.
Curley recalls that Delegate Walter Phelps and he were recently in Washington, D.C., to lobby with Congressional representative about changes to federal laws that are needed to assist Navajo people living in the Former Bennett Freeze area.
And this proposed Escalade Project is being presented as a solution “to eliminate all the social ills” of the people of the former Freeze area, he says.
But Curley said it seems like this project and other projects are proposed to eliminate the poverty and social problems of the Navajo people.
“And we rush into these decisions,” he said. “And year later, down the road, we realize, maybe we jumped the gun.”
And Curley said maybe this proposed Escalade Project is one of those projects.
“We’re going to rush into it because it is promoted as economic independence for the former Bennett Freeze area,” he said. “And then we’re to come back and realize, you know, that it was a mistake. And there are plenty of reasons why I believe it could be a mistake. But I’m not going to go into that right now.”
The main point is that those delegates that deal directly with Navajo-Hopi Relocation Law are aware that there is millions and millions of dollars being spent annually to address lawsuits, payments that the Navajo Nation is legally obligated to pay to the Hopis and “white lawyers” who represent us, Curley emphasizes.
He noted that a rough estimate of the millions of dollars being paid to the Hopis and white attorneys for the past several years is probably the same amount that the Confluence Partners are projecting as profits.
But Curley said these millions and millions of dollars, which should go to the Navajo people, that the tribe paid and is paying is because of “all the mistakes we made. And we are paying a high price for today. And we continue to pay a high price today and in the future. So think about that. Think about what you are doing. Think about some of the ramifications. Some of the signs out there that could cause even greater liability for the Navajo Nation.”
He says that he’s also really disturbed to hear from the Confluence Partners that the tribal Attorney General’s Office, the Department of Justice, have been involved in the proposed Escalade Project.
“And it reminded me of the deal that they got us into with respect to the (BHP coal) mine purchase,” Curley recalled. “It was the Department of Justice that trail blazed the agreements, that put together all of the agreements. And they put it before us in executive session. Nobody was allowed to look at it. And the same thing, I understand, is happening with respect to this project. I’m really disappointed in the Department of Justice. I’m really disappointed in the Assistant Attorney General (Dana Bobroff). I’m really disappointed in Attorney General Harrison Tsosie.
“I thought they knew better,” he said. “I thought they learned their lessons from the (BHP coal) mine purchase. Maybe it’s time, we make the office an elected one.”
And Curley said that would eliminate political pressure on the tribal justice department “from leading the Navajo Nation Council down the wrong road of costly mistakes.”
He urged the Council to seriously think about making the position of tribal attorney general an elected one, which would make the tribal justice department reflect the wants of the Navajo people instead of what politicians want.
Curley noted that he also wants Chief Legislative Counsel Levon Henry to research the Navajo-Hopi Relocation Act and find out why the tribe is continuing to pay for lawsuits because he thought that the federal settled all disputes.
But he said it didn’t because the Council at that time didn’t ask enough questions because it was “campaign season” and that law was used for campaign purposes.
Curley said he also want Henry to research the federal relocation settlement law to identify any potential lawsuits that could arise from the proposed Escalade Project.
“I heard that the Department of Justice already did the homework (on the Escalade Project) so maybe they could tell us,” he added.
Naabik’iyati Committee Chairperson Pro Temp Edmund Yazzie calls on Committee member Delegate Leonard Tsosie to speak.
Tsosie says that he voted for the purchase of the BHP coal mine and that due diligence was done before the Council decided to buy the mine, which is a different issue from the proposed Escalade Project.
He praised Bobroff, the tribal justice department for helping the Council with the due diligence of the mine purchase, which is why he voted yes to buy the mine.
But on the proposed Escalade Project, Tsosie said that if he was Hale that he wouldn’t be citing all the statistics on Bodaway-Gap’s social problems.
“You make it sound like we’re not doing our job,” he said. “I somewhat took offense to that. The reason why we have these high statistics of lesser education achievement, unemployment and all these things is because of the state of Arizona and because of the federal government and the states (of New Mexico, Colorado and Utah).
“It’s called double taxation,” Tsosie said.
He added these states grab the reservation’s economic development tax dollar that they have never contributed to in developing in the first place and they stand there with their hands out, wanting that dollar.
And Tsosie said they took double taxation to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is “anti-Indian, anti-Navajo, anti-Jicarilla,” and won.
He said that’s why it’s four times harder for the tribe to have economic development.
The states stand there and say that they want taxes from our economic development but they’re not going to fund our economic development, Tsosie said.
He blamed the reservation’s low academic achievement on the reservation’s school boards, specifically the Red Mesa and Window Rock School Boards, where “Navajos doing it Navajos.”
Tsosie said that the Window Rock School Board sued the Navajo Nation.
And about 90 percent of our children attend these public schools, which tell us that we have no oversight over their curriculum, he said.
Tsosie told Hale, “And so now you’re trying to blame us? I would recommend that the state representatives, the state senators, and the federal legislators looks at themselves first, and the federal judges look at themselves first for causing the problems that we are having.
“The BHP mine purchase happened because of double taxation,” he said. “BHP couldn’t hack paying the state tax and the Navajo Nation tax. It was just too much for them. And their bottom line in the end was that we just couldn’t hack it anymore and the coal supply agreement, therefore we have to close up, unless we work out some other arrangements.
“And to save the Navajo jobs; and to save the benefits to Navajo people and Navajo government and Navajo employees, to save all of them, which we never got an appreciation for, we acted, this council acted,” Tsosie emphasized. “That’s what happened.”
After his long explanation of why the Council shouldn’t be held responsible for the statistics of social ills plaguing Bodaway-Gap and the Navajo Reservation, he asked the Confluence Partners about the status of their proposed Escalade Project with President Shelly, who had given them a deadline.
Tsosie, who is a member of the Council’s Resources and Development Committee, also asked if the Confluence Partners had met with medicine people, which the RDC had recommended after hearing that medicine people opposed the project.
But he said there’s always a group of Navajos that oppose almost every tribal economic development project, which is happening with the proposed Escalade Project and happened with the BHP coal mine purchase, the Iyanbito Solar Project, URI (Uranium Resources Inc.), and water rights.
“And we can’t seem to appease every Navajo,” Tsosie lamented. “We just can’t. And so in the states schools, they taught them how to talk back, to run behind the freedom of speech, to say what they want on Facebook and trash their leader.
“Every time we try to promote something in terms of employment, we see these same things happen and so there’s a split at Bodaway-Gap Chapter over this project,” he said. “So how do we mend that?”
Tsosie said that RDC also recommended that the chapters that are impacted by the proposed Escalade Project have a referendum vote.
He added that he was confused over the “on again and off again” of chapter resolutions over the proposed project.
Tsosie noted that if the Council and the Naabik’iyati Committee really support the Escalade Project that they should put a Peacemaking session together for the impacted chapters to talk things out.
“I personally have said that I like the (Escalade) idea,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind paying a good price to sit at a restaurant at the edge of the Grand Canyon and have a nice meal.
“I’ve skied on various slopes,” Tsosie added. “I’ve said that I’ve probably skied on somebody’s sacred peak…The Creator has not struck me down for doing that. But I’ve asked for forgiveness too in our prayers. And I think it’s the forgiveness part that has heard and that’s why I’m still here today.
He then asked about the Partner’s feasibility study and said that he hoped it wouldn’t be like the ones that the Resources and Development Committee receive from the tribal enterprises, which paint such a successful picture that it borders on “misrepresentation.”
Tsosie warned the Partners against doing that because the Council eventually finds out if the Partners have financial problems.
He said he also agree with Delegate Curley’s recommendation for a legal review of the project because he’s also aware that the Hopis have expressed concern about the Escalade Project.
“But at the same time, one of the things that we have found out and I accept this,” Tsosie said. “The Pueblo Nations that surround Navajo land are now objecting to Navajo economic development efforts. We don’t infringe upon their economic development dreams. But they are infringing on our’s. It’s happening in the state of New Mexico. And it’s happening in the state of Arizona. So what right do these tribes have to infringe upon another tribe’s economic development effort. I don’t think they have any right. And so what do they want us to do? Be poor again?
“I recall having served in New Mexico that all the tribes came together to support Indian gaming there,” he said. “Now all those Pueblos have developed as a result of 100 percent support. Now that they made a couple of dollars, they’re saying no to their Pueblo brothers and to their Navajo brothers. They’re no longer following their Indian teaching. They’ve become the greedy crubby capitalists. That’s what it is. Anything to prevent a competitor. And that’s what’s going on. And so I’m just speaking what I see and how I interpret it.
“We support Navajo Nations,” Tsosie said. “We’ve really never infringed on anybody else. We’re trying to develop on Navajo. But we have these Indian Pueblos and Indian Tribes showing up in Santa Fe testifying against Navajo and in D.C.
“So I don’t know what relationship develops after doing that,” he said. “I know it’s not Navajo’s fault. But this is why I think when we have Hopis objecting to this (Escalade Project), it presents a problem for me when they’re tearing down our signs over at Twin Arrows. How can you tear down a sign and then speak with credibility over here. It doesn’t jive with me. And that’s why those that bring, and I noticed the last time, the Confluence group brought their Hopi friends. So I don’t like saying this because we try to respect each other’s tribal leaderships. We try. But for me, it’s when I didn’t say it first, I didn’t do it first. It’s the Hopis that were tearing down our signs first, not wanting Twin Arrows to develop. So we have to say something in response. And I wish they won’t do that and I wish they sit down with us. So I just want to mention that. That’s why I think even if these go to court, I think those facts will come out that people are trying to hamstring Navajo economic development.
“So those are my question and comments, Mr. Chair,” Tsosie says. “Thank you.”
Part 1 ends with and Part 2 also begins with Naabik’iyati Committee Chairperson Pro Temp Edmund Yazzie calling on Committee member Delegate Dwight Witherspoon to make his comments and questions on the Confluence Partners’ report on their proposed Grand Canyon Escalade project.