I did not realize how much time has passed since my last post about Grand Canyon Escalade. Over a year. Confluence Partners was involved in high level negotiations with the Navajo Nation and part of the negotiation process was an agreement not to communicate about the process. The negotiating team for the Navajo Nation was comprised of assigned representatives from NN DOJ, Economic Development, NN Hospitality Enterprise, and a DOJ retained law firm. Looking back, agreeing to this was a bad decision because we were unable to challenge opponents of the project and keep up our outreach to the local Chapter residents. But once agreed to we had to abide by it. Which brings us to why I am able to write and post once again and what is happening with Escalade.
A final package of legislation was delivered to the Navajo Nation Council Office of Legislative Affairs. From there it has moved on to the Speakers Office, is being assigned a legislation number and is being assigned to committees for review, debate and hopefully approval. There are four major documents in the Resolution packet, along with eleven exhibits, which are maps and ancillary documents, like the Business Site Leases. The legislation consists of a Council Resolution to authorize the legislation, a Master Agreement, which sets out the business terms and responsibilities of the parties, the Development Agreement, which sets out the process for designing and constructing the facilities, and the Operating Agreement, which sets out the roles and responsibilities for managing and operating the project. Once assigned a legislation number these documents become public information and will be available to all for review, comment and support or opposition depending on your point of view.
I have been reading many press reports and articles and postings on opposition sites about the project and have found that most of them are full of inaccurate reports and information and, in several cases, intentionally misleading, false and derogatory information. I am going to try and set the record straight on a few key items here and will be posting a complete FAQ (frequently asked questions) in a few days. For now, let’s take on a few of the bigger myths, and canards.
Grand Canyon Escalade is being developed by outsiders and non-Navajo. FALSE. Under the terms of the legislation negotiated, Grand Canyon Escalade will be developed by Navajo Nation Hospitality Enterprises (NNHE), a wholly owned subsidiary of the Navajo Nation. NNHE will enter into a master lease agreement for the project site and road and utility corridors under a Standard Business Lease Agreement. NNHE will then sublease parts of the project to a variety of business users. Under the proposed legislation Confluence Partners will lease from NNHE a large portion of the property and construct and operate a cultural center, recreational venues, the tram to the Canyon floor and the necessary service facilities for the project (water systems, sewage treatment facilities, staff, security and maintenance). The Navajo Nation will own all land and improvements.
The Escalade Project will desecrate Navajo Sacred Sites. FALSE. Under the terms of the proposed legislation the Navajo Nation grants Confluence Partners the right to contract for cultural and environmental studies and engineering necessary to comply with Environmental Review Regulations of the NN Business Leasing Regulations. This includes compliance with the Navajo Nation Cultural Resource Protection Act (NNC § 1001), Navajo Nation Policy to Protect Traditional Cultural Properties (NNHPD Policy), and NN Cultural Resource Protection Act (19 NNC Sec. 1001, et seq.) among others. These studies will be submitted to the Navajo Nation department of Cultural Preservation for review, comment, and, if everything is done properly, approval. If Sacred Sites will or would be desecrated, the project won’t go forward. This is how all projects on the Navajo Nation are handled.
The Escalade Project will desecrate Hopi Sacred Sites and the Hopi will sue the Navajo Nation. FALSE. The project is in the area that is governed by the 1934 Navajo Hopi Compact and the 2009 Navajo Hopi Land Dispute settlement agreement. Both require that the Navajo to give Hopi access to the Salt Trail, to protect Hopi sacred sites, not interfere with sacred springs and Golden Eagle nests. The compact requires arbitration instead of litigation on disputes. The development does not interfere with the Salt Trail, protected Hopi sacred sites, springs and Golden Eagle nests. Confluence Partners has had discussion with two former Hopi chairmen and when they were briefed, they concurred that there is not any interference with Hopi TCPs or other issues concerning the Hopi. We plan on doing outreach to all of the 12 Hopi villages’ kikmongwi (religious leaders) on the project and invite them to participate in the Cultural Discovery Center.
The Navajo Nation is at great risk from lawsuits and delays and the cost of defending lawsuits. FALSE. Confluence Partners pays for all costs including legal challenges until permits are issued. NN has no risk or cost if CP fails to get clearances.
The local Chapter and community does not support the Escalade Project. FALSE. The local Chapter voted to approve Escalade. While opponents have made much of the margin of victory being only 7 votes, the fail to say that there were only 109 votes cast. Escalade was approved by 55% of the voters. Many of the voters against the project don’t actually live in the Bodeway-Gap chapter area. An example is Hopi Cultural Officer Leigh Kuwanwisiwma who admitted to being at the meeting and voting against the Project in a recent Navajo Hopi Observer newspaper article. The percentage of local residents voting approval was significantly higher than the final margin of victory. In addition, the current Chapter President won his election running as a supporter of Escalade. His opponent ran opposing Escalade. The current President won a significant majority of the vote in that election.
The Escalade Project will never be approved by the National Park Service and portions of the Property are outside the Navajo Reservation. FALSE. The Navajo Nation has the exclusive right to use and occupy the eastern bank of the Colorado River above the high water mark.
- The Navajo Boundary Act of 1934 established the western boundary as “the south bank of that stream (Colorado River) to its confluence with the Little Colorado River thence following the north bank of the Little Colorado River to a point opposite the east boundary of the Grand Canyon National Park.”
- The Navajo Boundary Act excluded from the Navajo Reservation all lands previously designated by the Secretary of the Interior as being valuable for power purposes and all lands withdrawn or classified as power-site lands. The Secretary of the Interior, in 1917, had designated all the land along the eastern edge of the Colorado River within a quarter mile of the River as valuable for water power purposes.
- The Navajo Boundary Act retained for the Navajo Nation “the exclusive right to occupy and use such designated and classified lands until they shall be required for power purposes or other uses under the authority of the United States.”
- In 1984, the Secretary of the Interior revoked the water power designations. As a result of that revocation, the Navajo Nation has the exclusive right to use and occupy the eastern bank of the Colorado River without limitation.
More information will be coming out in the next few days and weeks. If you are a supporter of Escalade, now is a good time to start calling your Council candidates and Presidential Candidates and asking them where they stand and what they are doing to move Escalade forward.