Letter: Escalade Project not right for Navajo Nation

To the editor:

I am going to be very direct and candid in this letter. First of all, I am very upset with the leadership of the Bodaway Gap Chapter and the proceedings of the Special Meeting held on Oct. 3 regarding the Escalade Project at the Sacred Site known as the Confluence in the Grand Canyon on Navajo Nation reservation lands.

I am expressing publicly my anger and dissatisfaction with the heavy-handed decisions being forced down the people's throats by Gap Chapter officials. It is also disappointing to learn that they have been secretly consulting and meeting with Navajo Nation leaders, receiving instructions on how to conduct the meeting in order to move the Escalade Project forward.

On Oct. 3 a Special Meeting was called, which was posted at the last minute and also held in the middle of the week, disenfranchising people from participating in the discussion and decision being made on their behalf. This decision to move forward ignores the rights of local residents (grazing permit holders and allottees) and excludes them from voicing their opinions on what is in their best interest in regards to development of their ancestral lands.

President Arizona barely called the meeting to order when he immediately called for a motion and vote to approve a resolution to rescind all prior resolutions opposing the Escalade Project and accept a new resolution in support of the project. This action was in complete violation of Robert's Rule of Order, because it purposely disallowed a discussion by the people before voting on such an important and contentious issue. It was then that I stood up and protested and I was punished by being escorted out of the Chapter by two policewomen for voicing my concerns.

When it came to the vote, I could see Chapter Vice President Williams counting votes in a rapid and disorderly way. I witnessed also that even though there were many people outside peering into the crowded chapter trying to participate, she was counting only those inside the Chapter building. The policewomen kept me from re-entering the Chapter completely and effectively disenfranchised me from having my vote counted against the development of the Escalade Project at the Sacred Site in the Grand Canyon near the Confluence on the Navajo Nation reservation.

The Gap Chapter leadership betrayed their moral and ethical obligation to respect our Treaties established to protect the peoples' rights in the development of our precious Dinetah by conducting themselves the way they did to rescind the resolutions in opposition of the Project.

I, Louise Yellowman, strongly urge Navajo Nation President Shelly and Vice President Jim, State Representative Hale, Bodaway Gap Chapter officials and all leadership officials in favor of this project to reconsider their ill-advised support of the Escalade Project.

Furthermore, I ask that they cease and desist any development that exposes and exploits our Sacred Sites and allow the natural and beautiful to exist undisturbed.

I lived and raised my children in Gap and Cedar Ridge from 1965 - 1984. I was voted Chapter Secretary in 1968 and served until 1980. I also served as Coconino County Supervisor from 1980-2008. During my time I accomplished many things including advocating tenaciously for my Native American people and serving as their voice on important issues such as Rare Medals Uranium Mine clean-up in Tuba City, advocating for intervention programs dealing with alcohol and domestic violence prevention programs and drafting proposals for the Gap Elementary and Cameron Schools to meet the need for K-4th grade with the help of these communities and district school officials.

I also participated in bringing water, electricity and housing from Gap to Cedar Ridge and additional housing to the Bitter Springs area. I was responsible for establishing a transfer station at Gap. I also negotiated a waste collection and disposal shared cost between Navajo Nation and Coconino County.

It would be more prudent and wise of our leadership to consider other types of projects that empower the Dine; projects that benefit the people and respect the voice of the people who have a right to participate in discussions and decisions that affect their future and their livelihood. Rather than focus on tourism as a form of development that serves non-Dine, and further supports the exploitation of our people and lands, consider projects like the ones I supported while in public service.

Neither I, nor my family is against development or progress. We are only opposed to the proposed Escalade Project because it is near our Sacred Site in the Grand Canyon where many of our relatives live and care for their livestock and value their traditional way of life. This project simply stated, jeopardizes their survival. We are grazing permit holders and our voices have not been heard or our vote recognized.

I strongly recommend that before our leaders and decision-making bodies agree to any economic development they adhere to values and standards that ensure that the people's best interest and voices are respected and protected and not rejected or ignored which is a current standard.

The basic issues in responsible development include transparency, consent of the governed, third party monitoring, establishment of best management practices, metrics, indemnification and social contracting.

My son, Don Yellowman, who now serves as President for Forgotten People, believes, and I agree with him, that the Dine who have been displaced and/or deprived of opportunity resulting from the Bennett Freeze deserve better! We are entitled by our Treaties to be informed and empowered to determine a way of life that is not dictated for our community. In closing, the Escalade developers are concerned with one thing; their own self-interest and short term gain. We stand for social, environmental and economic justice and do not support selling out to non-native corporate interests for the sake of seasonal tourism.

Louise Yellowman

Former Coconino County Supervisor

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