Guest column: Navajo lawmakers schedule Escalade special session

The Confluence, where the Little Colorado and Colorado Rivers meet. The area is considered sacred to many Native American tribes and is the site of a proposed 420-acre development by Confluence Partners, LLC.

Photo by Ryan Williams.

The Confluence, where the Little Colorado and Colorado Rivers meet. The area is considered sacred to many Native American tribes and is the site of a proposed 420-acre development by Confluence Partners, LLC.

BODAWAY/GAP, Ariz. -- Navajo lawmakers could decide the fate of a proposed gondola and resort at Grand Canyon Eastern Rim later this month.

Opponents of the Grand Canyon Escalade are ramping up for a battle on an unpopular bill facing the Navajo Nation Council to build a gondola tram and tourist resort at the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers at the Grand Canyon. The measure might surface again at a special session of the tribal council in October.

Navajo councilman and Grand Canyon Escalade Bill sponsor Ben Bennett collected enough petition signatures Oct. 17 for a special council session. Bennett received 14 signatures out of 24 total council members and scheduled a meeting in Window Rock at 10 a.m. Oct. 31, said Larry Foster, advisor to Save the Confluence families.

The Navajo Nation Council has numerous options. According to Foster, they could vote on the bill, table it, refer it back to a standing committee or make changes to the legislation to create a task force that will negotiate issues in the bill.

Bennett could also delay the session by pulling the item from the agenda, Foster said.

Tribal officials had said Bennett’s petition likely would receive signatures because the 23rd Navajo Nation Fall session is underway in Window Rock. Navajo lawmakers are present in one area and many may sign, said Tom Platero, Navajo Legislative Services executive director.

Platero said Bennett asked him to prepare the paperwork for petition signatures yesterday.

The Escalade bill wants Navajo lawmakers to approve a master agreement with Confluence Partners LLC from Scottsdale. The partners asked the council withdraw 420-acres of land, approve a non-compete agreement, waive certain parts of the Navajo Nation Code and fork out $65 million for Escalade’s infrastructure.

The partners would name their project Grand Canyon Escalade, which would feature a hotel, a restaurant, a discovery center and a parking lot on the rim overlooking the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers. The bill also proposes a tram that takes tourists to the canyon floor, with a café, an amphitheater, a garden and river walk.

The unpopular, controversial bill started moving toward the council in August 2016. It has stalled many times because Bennett pulled it off the council’s standing committee agendas for varied reasons.

Save the Confluence Families urge Navajo voters contact their council delegates and encourage them to vote down Grand Canyon Escalade legislation.

Many family STC members have home-site leases or grazing rights near the site of the proposed Grand Canyon Escalade, a proposed tourist resort that will feature a gondola.

Navajo development law requires grazing permit holders give consent for such projects. STC families oppose Escalade and refuse to give their approval.

“The confluence of (Colorado and Little Colorado rivers) is sacred,” said Renae Yellowhorse, STC member. “You get up early, you say your prayers, you take care of the land. If they built a tourist development here, it would block our prayers and where would our prayers go?”

More than two-thirds of the tribal council have publicly voted against the bill or made public statements in opposition to it.

The following council delegates signed Bennett’s petition, according to Foster:

• Kee Allen Begay, Jr., represents Tachee/Blue Gap, Many Farms, Nazlini, Tselani/Cottonwood and Low Mountain.

• Norman M Begay, represents Alamo, Ramah, Tohajiilee.

• Steven Begay, represents Coyote Canyon, Mexican Springs, Naschitti, Tohatchi and Bahastl’a’a’.

• Nelson S. Begaye, represents Lukachukai, Round Rock, Tsaile/Wheatfields, Tse Ch’izhi, Rock Point.

• Ben Bennett, represents Crystal, Fort Defiance, Red Lake and Sawmill.

• Tom Chee, represents Shiprock.

• Seth Damon, represents Baahaali, Chilchiltah, Manuelito, Red Rock, Rock Springs and Tsayatoh.

• Herman Daniels, represents Tsah Bii Kin, Navajo Mountain, Shonto and Oljato.

• Lee Jack, Jr. represents Dilcon, Indian Wells, Teesto, Whitecone and Greasewood Springs.

• Leonard H. Pete, represents Chinle.

• Walter Phelps, represents Cameron, Coalmine Canyon, Birdsprings, Leupp and Tolani Lake.

• Alton Joe Shepherd, represents Jeddito, Cornfields, Ganado, Kinlichee and Steamboat.

• Leonard Tsosie, represents Littlewater, Pueblo Pintado, Terreon, Whitehorse Lake, Baca/Brewitt, Casamero Lake, Ojo Encino and Counselor.

• Edmund Yazzie, represents Churchrock, Iyanbito, Mariano Lake, Pinedale, Smith Lake and Thoreau.

by Halne’e, Save the Confluence

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