NOV 01, 2016 8:04 PM PDT

Navajo Nation Opposes Grand Canyon Escalade Tram

By unanimous vote, the first committee on the Navajo Nation Council voted down the bill to authorize the Grand Canyon Escalade development. During a hearing at Twin Arrows Casino Resort several weeks ago, the five-member Law and Order Committee disapproved of the plan to construct a resort and tramway on the eastern rim of the Grand Canyon where the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers meet.
Navajo Nation council delegates listen to a presentation about the Grand Canyon Escalade. Photo: Emery Cowan
The committee agreed that the development would irreparably harm and desecrate the confluence. They agreed that the permitting process has not secured the necessary permission of local residents and livestock owners. And, they agreed that the $65 million of Navajo Nation funding required to build the resort’s infrastructure could be better spent elsewhere.

“If we start establishing these particular projects across Navajo Nation how are we going to be in five years? In 10 years? Why can’t we invest back in our own culture, our traditional way of life?” Navajo Council Delegate Kee Allen Begay Jr. said to cheers from those against the project. About 100 people on both sides of the Escalade proposal attended the hearing.

The committee hearing, which was conducted mostly in Navajo, was the first of four that will consider the tramway proposal before it goes to the full 24- member tribal council where it must gain approval by a two-thirds majority to pass. Introduced in late August by Council Delegate Benjamin Bennett of Fort Defiance, the legislation will go to the full council regardless of whether it gets voted up or down in the committees. However, before that will occur, the entire council has scheduled a work session on November 10 to review the Escalade legislation and to hear from Navajo division directors and the attorney general about specific concerns they have raised about its deficiencies.

Four years in the works, legislation calls for approving a master development agreement for the Grand Canyon Escalade Project, a commitment by the Navajo Nation of $65 million to build infrastructure to the isolated site and the withdrawal of 420 acres of tribal land for the development. The project would include an 8-person, 1,400-foot gondola tramway that would shuttle visitors from the rim to the bottom of the canyon where there would be a riverwalk, food pavilion and amphitheater. On the rim, plans include a multimedia complex, a Navajoland Discovery Center, restaurants, an RV park, retail stores and hotels, including a five star resort. The tribe would be entitled to between 8 and 18 percent of gross revenue based on visitor attendance.
A roadside mural opposes the project. Photo: Grand Canyon Trust
There is controversy among members of the Navajo Nation in regards to such development. Some members see the project as a potential for positive change, citing that it would create as many as 3,500 jobs and promote sustainable eco-tourism that for the nation. Others fear that development would pose “detrimental irreversible harm” to the sacred qualities of the confluence, according to a letter from an advisory committee to the Navajo Nation Historic Preservation Department.

A new 16-minute documentary film, The Confluence, explores the proposal’s impact to local families and is being viewed widely across the Navajo Nation, where the pending decision to for the Escalade proposal rests.

Sources: Grand Canyon Trust, Arizona Daily Sun
About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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