Navajo Nation Council says no to escalade development

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, which was voted down in a special session of the Navajo Nation Council Oct. 31.

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, which was voted down in a special session of the Navajo Nation Council Oct. 31.

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — The Navajo Nation Council voted down legislation, during a special session Oct. 31 for the Grand Canyon Escalade project, which included a gondola tramway on the western edge of the Nation at the confluence of the Little Colorado and the Colorado rivers.

The legislation included $65 million for the development of infrastructure for the project site and would have also authorized the Navajo Nation Hospitality Enterprise to enter into a development and operating agreement, approved a noncompete agreement, waived certain provisions of the Navajo Nation Code and accepted the approval of a land withdrawal in the Bodaway/Gap Chapter.

The project would have included a river walk in the canyon with an elevated walkway and a food pavilion, 47,000 square feet of retail and restaurants on the rim, a Navajoland Discovery Center, specialty retail stores, restaurants, artist in residence studios, vendor markets, tourism information center, rim trails, entertainment lawn, public safety office, hotels, gas station, RV park and provide water lines, roads, electric services, sewer treatment plant and communications for the area.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said the project has come before the council in previous years and in every instance, the council has opposed the development.

“The developer was asking the Navajo Nation to pay out millions to help develop the project,” Begaye said. “Our administration has opposed the development since we came into office. We have been very clear that we will not sign off any agreement for this project."

Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Chris Lehnertz said the park respects the sovereignty of Navajo Nation, its people, and the process to fully review and consider the Escalade project proposal.

"We encourage and support the need for sustainable tourism and economic development and look forward to continuing to work with the Navajo Nation and all our Northern Arizona neighbors," Lehnertz said in a statement. "Grand Canyon National Park is committed to identifying new world class tourism opportunities and partnerships with tribes under the NATIVE Act (Native American Tourism and Improving Visitor Experience) that align with resource stewardship and protection, building capacity with tribal tourism partners, and enhancing preservation of cultural traditions distinctive to Grand Canyon."

Save the Confluence, a grassroots organization made up of families in the area who own grazing rights in the area who opposed the project, celebrated the news.

“We did it,” the Save the Confluence Facebook page said after the vote. “We killed the Escalade monster.”

Tribal representatives from the Hopi and Zuni Tribe were in attendance at the special session.

Hopi Tribal Chairman Herman G. Honanie thanked the Navajo Nation Council for its decision saying the land is sacred to both tribes. Honanie said in a letter a year ago that the proposal would “irreversibly compromise the tranquility and sacredness” of areas the Hopi Tribe has held sacred for at least a thousand years.

"The Hopi Tribe and many other Southwestern tribes, including the Navajo Nation, hold the Grand Canyon as a sacred place of reverence, respect and conservation stewardship,” Honanie said in his October 2016 letter to Navajo leaders.

Honanie said that while the media sometimes emphasizes the differences between the two tribes, today was a day for rejoicing the tribes’ common respect for each other’s sacred commitments.

"The Navajo and Hopi people are and shall remain neighbors, and desire to live in harmony with mutual respect for each other for all future generations,” Honanie said.