Hopis protest Grand Canyon plans

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

CHINLE, April 16, 2012

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T he Hopi Tribe has issued a press release accusing the Navajos of failing to consult with them before negotiating with would-be developers at the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers, and the Hopis say they oppose any development in the area.

"Every tribe that considers the Canyon important and sacred should protect it rather than commercially exploit it," the release reads.


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The Hopis also are in the process of trying to get the canyon listed on the National Register of Historic Places, "so it is essential that no development occur," reads the release.

"Ongtuvqa, the Grand Canyon, and Paayutuvqa, the Little Colorado River Gorge, are sacred places and considered aboriginal lands," Hopi Tribal Chairman LeRoy Shingoitewa states in the release.

The Hopi Salt Trail, a traditional pilgrimage route marked by petroglyphs and offering places, ends at the confluence.

The release hints the development may violate a 1934 land settlement compact between the tribes that assured mutual protection of each one's cultural and religious sites.

In response, President Ben Shelly issued the following statement in an email from his spokesman, Erny Zah.

"I understand the cultural significance of the confluence. We have stories in our traditions that bestow the area for its cultural significance. I am open to having talks with the Hopi Tribe and other people who are concerned about the plans for development for the area," Shelly stated.

"I also believe a balance can be found between the plans for development of the confluence area while maintaining its cultural significance," he said. "But in order for that to happen, we must engage in communication."

Shelly recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Confluence Partners LLC to investigate the possibility of building a billion-dollar resort at the confluence, complete with a tramway from the rim to the canyon floor.

In a press release announcing the MOU, Shelly said the resort would bring about 2,000 jobs to the depressed former Bennett Freeze area.

Meanwhile, the "Grand Canyon Escalade," as the project is referred to in the MOU, is also drawing fire from non-Natives who want the pristine beauty of the area preserved.

Brandon Hire, a national park enthusiast from Marion, Ohio, is circulating a petition calling for the preservation of the confluence and surroundings. As of Wednesday, the online petition had 184 signatures from states across the nation and several foreign countries.

"When I read an article about the tramway, I was appalled," Hire said in a telephone interview. "I feel for President Shelly, I feel for the desire to get jobs, I do, but is this opportunity to have jobs now worth marring the canyon forever? Certainly the Navajos can come up with something more sustainable."

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