Tribe's turmoil over Skywalk continues

PEACH SPRINGS - Tension over the Skywalk contract continues to tear at the bonds between Hualapai Tribal Council members.

According to court documents, Council Chairwoman Louise Benson and Councilwoman Shari YellowHawk were suspended after calling for a vote to repeal the tribe's eminent domain ordinance and the ban preventing Grand Canyon Skywalk Development from doing business on Hualapai land.

Tribal spokesman Dave Cieslak confirmed that the women have been suspended and a hearing to determine if they can be formally removed from the council was supposed to take place Friday night, but was delayed due to council members being out of town.

The council held a meeting with the community to discuss its decision to take the management contract from its developer, David Jin, on Monday, he said. During the meeting, Benson and YellowHawk called for a vote to repeal the ordinance and the ban.

The vote passed and the items were repealed, but only for a very brief period, Cieslak said. Almost immediately after the vote, two other council members called for the suspension of Benson and YellowHawk. The two councilwomen were not allowed to vote because they were the subjects of the motion, he said.

After that motion passed, the council voted to reinstate both the eminent domain ordinance and the ban on Grand Canyon Skywalk Development, Cieslak said.

This is not the first time the ordinance has been repealed and reinstated. The council voted to repeal the ordinance on March 3 and reinstated it on March 5.

Skywalk developer David Jin and the tribal council have been arguing over the proceeds from the Skywalk, a glass bridge that juts out from the rim of the Grand Canyon, and the completion of the Skywalk visitors center for more than a year.

The tribe first passed the eminent domain ordinance in March 2011.

Jin filed two complaints in tribal and federal courts to prevent the council from taking over the contract and push the two sides into arbitration.

The case in federal court was dismissed and Jin was told he had to exhaust all possible remedies in tribal court before he could return to the federal court. The tribal court ruled that it did not have the jurisdiction to hear the case.

The two sides started meeting with an arbiter in November. When the arbiter demanded that the council present its accounting books on the Skywalk at a meeting scheduled for Feb. 10, the council voted to use the eminent domain ordinance and take over the contract. It also filed for a temporary restraining order against Grand Canyon Skywalk Development to prevent the company from removing any property that belonged to the tribe from the Skywalk and refused to attend any more arbitration talks.

Jin then filed a complaint in federal court to overturn the taking of the contract and push the two sides back to the arbitration table.

The council is arguing that the case should be heard in tribal court, but Jin claims that he cannot get a fair hearing in the tribal court because both the council and court have acted in bad faith to take his property, the contract, from him.

A federal court judge heard arguments on the bad faith claim on Wednesday. A ruling on the matter is pending.