Navajo leaders celebrate Twin Arrows ground breaking

LEUPP, Ariz. - At last Monday's groundbreaking of the Navajo Nation's fourth casino operation, Navajo Nation Council Speaker Johnny Naize told the audience that through economic cooperation, the Navajo Nation, other Arizona tribes, and neighboring communities can continue to grow and benefit from the gaming industry.

"Traditionally, the Navajo Nation and the city of Flagstaff haven't had the best relations on how to allocate natural resources or how to accommodate culturally significant sites like the San Francisco Peaks in our search to better our economic environments," Speaker Naize said. "I'm hoping this project, though the jobs and revenue it generates, will lead to more understanding between our communities."

The Twin Arrows Resort will be the first Navajo casino to have a hotel and conference center and will be its largest operation with approximately 800 long-term jobs. It seeks to provide an economic boost to the Western Agency and the Flagstaff area. The $150 million project will start the first phase of construction in April and doors are expected to open on July 1, 2012.

President Shelly commented, "It is our vision that [Navajo] families will have a steady income from an estimated $23 million payroll. Twin Arrows Casino Resort will bring much needed revenue to this part of the Navajo Nation, and we will continue to chip away at our 50 percent unemployment rate ... This [will be] our largest casino and it is all part of [our] plan to employ our Navajo people and advance toward economic prosperity."

Naize reiterated that as Navajo gaming operations expand, they must also remain as a tool to generate economic opportunities for the other new and existing industries that would employ many Navajos, reducing the high unemployment rate on the Navajo Nation.

"Some have criticized the Navajo Nation's use of its Navajo Employment Preference Law, but it has leveled the playing field for small Navajo businesses to participate in the construction of these larger projects," Naize said. "I have been informed that, besides the Navajo employees that will go to work once this facility is completed, the primary construction company building this project will also focus on using Navajo labor."

According to the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise (NNGE), it's been about 25 years since the Navajo Nation has bought and placed land into trust.

"The size of the Navajo Nation was increased by 405 acres with the purchase of the Twin Arrows parcel and placing it into trust. [It] was a concerted effort and many people, agencies and tribal governmental representatives worked long and hard to make today possible," stated Bob T. Winter, NNGE CEO.

Being the first Navajo casino operation in Arizona, Naize called on continuing a positive relationship with the state and its gaming tribes. Recently, there has been movement to expand gaming in the state as an effort to combat falling state revenues caused by the recession and the struggling real estate market.

Dignitaries at the groundbreaking included Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly, Vice President Rex Lee Jim, Council Delegates Walter Phelps, Joshua Lavar Butler, Mel Begay, and former Navajo Nation Presidents Joe Shirley Jr. and Peterson Zah. Other representatives included those from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Coconino County officials, and Ernie Stevens, President of the National Indian Gaming Association.

To make this economic vision possible, the Navajo Nation worked diligently alongside the State of Arizona; Office of the Navajo-Hopi Indian Relocation; National Indian Gaming Commission; Bureau of Indian Affairs/Department of Interior; the Obama Administration; Coconino County; City of Flagstaff; and the Hopi Tribe.

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