Grand Canyon Escalade — Powerful LTE

Stirring Letter to the Editor from a concerned Navajo citizen regarding legislation to authorize the gondola into the Grand Canyon

Looking East from the Desert View Watchtower Overlook — Photo by Sinjin Eberle

Article reprinted from July 6, 2017 Navajo Times

Why waste $65 million on this atrocity?

On Thursday, July 6, the Escalade development legislation is scheduled to be heard by the Naabik’iyati Committee. This committee is the last of the four standing committees to hear the legislation. We shall see.

Mr. Benjamin Bennett, sponsor of this controversial proposal, has pulled this bill numerous times from various standing committee hearings since he introduced it in August of 2016. By my count, he has pulled it at least five times from the NABI Committee alone since February 2017.

I spoke with him at Sawmill Chapter in January 2017 where we had traveled to present our resolution to ask for support from the chapter in opposing escalade (which the chapter members passed in opposition to Escalade). At that time he informed me that he introduced it to the Navajo Nation Council to “put this proposal to rest once and for all … whether it passes or not. We want to let this issue follow the legislative process as provided in the Navajo Nation government.”

Mr. Bennett, you spoke so sincerely to me about letting this go through the legislative process and yet by pulling it off the hearing agenda at the last minute, time after time, you seem to be making a great effort to stop your own legislation from proceeding through the process.

We shall once again be in attendance at this hearing. I request of Mr. Bennett, Mr. Albert Hale and Mr. Rial Lamar Whitmer, partners of the Escalade, to stop playing games with the lives of the Diné affected by this development.

I have seen many of our people crying, filled with worry, feeling the weight of the stress upon their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual being. Each time you stop the process by pulling the bill, you are conveying your disregard and your disrespect to our Diné who live in the area who oppose this project. Let’s see if this legislation will actually be presented to the full Navajo Nation Council for their vote at summer session, a full year since it was introduced.

As of June 2017, the grassroots organization Save the Confluence, comprised of families who live in the area and their supporters, have gone before four of five agency councils. The Northern, Eastern, Western and Fort Defiance agency councils have passed our resolution against the Escalade. The fifth agency, Chinle, is scheduled to hear our resolution Saturday, July 8, in Tsaile, Ariz., at their meeting.

By traveling throughout our beautiful Dinétah, we have secured resolutions against the Escalade project from 23 chapters. Going to the chapters for their vote stemmed from Mr. Benjamin Bennett’s refusal to let us have a voice to speak at the committee hearings to state our opposition, which he has a right to do as he is the sponsor of the legislation.

Our only solution was to come before the people, present our resolution and ask for their support in opposing Escalade. By going this route, Diné have truly spoken when they vote. By the many chapters voting against the Escalade thus far, Save the Confluence families have solid and overwhelming support from our Diné who have voted against the Escalade at their chapters. The 86,000-plus have signed the online petition and the comments section of the Navajo Nation website along with the over 5,000 who have signed the paper petitions.

Here are some facts and truth for your perusal:

1) Escalade will be exempt from paying Navajo Nation taxes;
2) Only 8 percent to a maximum of 18 percent of revenue will be returned to the Navajo Nation;
3) an environmental impact statement/study has not been conducted;
4) the legislation skips the most important step of the Navajo Nation business-site lease process … that of getting permission of grazing permittees and land users;
5) Escalade project violates the compact signed by the Navajo Nation and Hopi Nation to end the 43-year-long Bennett Freeze law. One of the provisions was that both tribes will leave sites sacred to both untouched. Hopi Nation has every right to sue to halt this project, as do other tribes who hold this area sacred;
6) the boundary between Grand Canyon National Park and the Navajo Nation has not been defined or settled, legal challenges will ensue;
7) there is a non-compete clause in the master agreement which will prohibit Diné artisans from selling their wares within many miles from the project site;
8) Escalade partners say they will only be taking 420 acres of land but according to their own legislation, it is closer to 226,195 acres. In this zone, they will be the ones to determine developments, not the Navajo Nation.

A very important issue in this project to be aware of is that the $65 million they expect from the Nation is only for infrastructure Ð paved road, power lines, waterlines, etc. There will not be an immediate hiring frenzy for 3,500 jobs.

After lawsuits ensue, which the Nation will have to defend, it could be years and years before this project will be built because $65 million is a lot of money.

As I have gone to chapter after chapter to present our resolution, there are always seven issues raised by Diné saying we need help with: housing, roads, waterlines, electric lines, veterans, elderly, and scholarships among many other needs.

At chapter after chapter, Council delegates speak of loss of revenue, which the Nation receives, and to expect diminished funds to chapters. Yet, eight or nine Navajo Nation Council delegates think it’s OK to lend our money to a developer from Scottsdale and Mr. Albert Hale for 8 percent to 18 percent returned to us.

Lastly, it was interesting to listen to Mr. Leonard Tsosie, an ardent supporter of the Escalade project, state his objections to NGS legislation among which was giving up our sovereignty by having any legal disputes settled in state courts rather than here on the Nation.

Mr. Tsosie, in case you haven’t read the three-inch Escalade master agreement, that is exactly what the developers have inserted in the agreement.

A lot of the language in the NGS legislation is also in the Escalade legislation. Why is it OK to give up our sovereignty for Escalade?

We have been asked if we have an alternative to Escalade. I’m happy to say that yes we do but this alternative has been met with a deafening silence from the eight or nine Council delegates and the partners’ supporters.

Build businesses on the Highway 89 corridor in Western Navajo where millions of tourists drive to visit the South and North Rims of the Grand Canyon, who visit Lake Powell, Monument Valley and points in between.

Let’s capture those tourist dollars by building cultural centers, hotels, restaurants, truck stops, gas stations, and convenience stores. Let’s bring our children home to own and run these businesses. The Cameron and Shonto communities have already done this recently. Let’s not intrude on one of our sacred sites.

Yes, Mr. Leonard Tsosie, this is a sacred area, despite your belittling and sarcasm regarding what does the word “sacred” mean. When we have stories in our culture since time immemorial, of Salt Woman, of the sacredness of Toh ahidiliih, the Confluence of the Colorado River-male and the Little Colorado River-female, when the Hataalii Advisory Council of the Navajo Historic Preservation issues a position statement opposing the Escalade, when the Diné Medicine Men Association issues a resolution opposing the Escalade, when the Havasupai and the Hualapai, the Hopi and Zuni tribes, and the All Indian Pueblo Council issue resolutions opposing Escalade citing their origin stories, when medicine people come to me to tell me that this is a sacred area, I am inclined to listen to them.

I invite you eight or nine ardent pro-Escalade Council delegates to tell these medicine people that Toh ahidiilii is not sacred. That you know better than your constituents who elected you to represent and carry their voices to Window Rock, who elected you to advocate for them. Thousands upon thousands of Diné have said with a crystal clear voice: No Escalade tram.

In closing, the numbers and facts I have cited come directly from the Escalade master agreement, I am not pulling these out of the air, it’s in their language. If eight or nine Council delegates think the nation has $65 million for this atrocity, why not use this money for the whole Nation, say $13 million for each of the five agencies?

I want to say a sincere “Ahe’eeh” to the Council delegates who have supported us, who have encouraged us.

A big “Ahe’eeh” to all the 23 chapters and four agency councils and tens of thousands of you who have made your voice known by supporting our efforts. You are way cool.

Thank you for reading this long letter, it is much appreciated.

Rita Bilagody
Tohnaneesdizi, Ariz.

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