President Begaye and Navajo Nation Council Must Stop Escalade Nightmare

Renae Yellowhorse

To the editor:

The proposed Grand Canyon Escalade development, from the get-go, has been a nightmare for Navajo families who are Confluence stakeholders. The land users of southern Bodaway Chapter, where the luxury resort and tram were to locate, are shocked and relieved. 

We are shocked because one of Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye's first decisions was to deem the Escalade project as “not in the best interest of the Navajo Nation and Navajo people.” We are relieved because this has been a drawn out fight with a Scottsdale developer, who teamed up with Gap, Cedar Ridge and northern Bodaway stakeholders to divide our people. 

A Scottsdale developer, R. Lamar Whitmer, used his political public relations skills and a handful of paid Navajos to divide Bodaway/Gap/Cedar Ridge residents. He pitted relatives against relatives, friends against friends. He used newspaper ads to wage a political war against people who disagreed with him to gain what he wanted. This was painful to watch and experience because he embedded himself into the Shelly and Rex Lee Jim administration. 

We hope President Begaye and the new members of the Navajo Nation Council will have fresh eyes when they see the unethical behavior of the partners toward local Navajo people. We hope President Begaye's administration and the Navajo Nation Council will take a firm stand against the Confluence Partners. We want them to bring final closure of the Confluence Partners' Escalade plan and ban some members from the reservation. 

We hope people see the Confluence Partners were merely selling an idea, a thought and nothing more. We hope the local people begin to mend their relationships with one another, and we hope they can re-establish their relationship with the land. 

Under the re-awakening of Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez, it is our hope that land users and residents will finally gain peace of mind. 

We believe the two mighty rivers, the Colorado and the Little Colorado, have spoken. Moving forward, we hope the land users re-establish their relationship with the Holy People that includes Mother Earth, the wind and water people along with sacred-banded cliffs and canyons. These are forces in our Navajo earth-based religion that have existed since time immemorial. 

If President Begaye and Vice President Nez truly are sincere about their position, we thank them. We appreciate President Begaye's new stance on the proposed Grand Canyon Escalade project, saying the Escalade project is a "no go." 

We also extend our appreciation to the enormous support we continue to receive from the Grand Canyon Trust, the river runners, the nation, neighboring tribes, countless activists, and the 3,000 Navajo individuals who signed our petition, in addition to the Navajo chapters that stand with us against the development at the Grand Canyon's east rim. 

Nevertheless, while the president's stance is being recognized as good and welcome news, we will remain cautious about the Navajo Nation Council. 

This is the Navajo Nation Council that the Confluence Partners may lobby to push a bill through, and we believe such an attempt could continue to divide the Bodaway/Gap community. The new administration addressed the issue, but ignores the illegal actions of the developers and chapter that have brought us to this point. 

We, the Navajo Nation, are easy targets because of all illegalities allowed. We were totally ignored and not one leader spoke on our behalf. All the leadership was persuaded at Bodaway Gap Chapter by Albert Hale and Lamar Whitmer to get what they wanted. 

The project was going backward for Navajo people. The project was always intended to bring in wealthy people and make the Confluence Partners rich. 

We respectfully ask the Navajo Nation Council to respect the decision of the Begaye/Nez administration and honor the wishes of local families and grazing permit holders. 

The fight is not over. There will always be another threat and Whitmer of Confluence Partners has not admitted defeat. 

As Navajo Division of Natural Resources Director, Moroni Benally, mentioned in his May 12, 2015 memo against the project, "...a few hundred jobs is not worth it." Our Navajo people are educated and smart enough to bring viable jobs to our own communities. 

The Navajo Nation needs to create regulations controlling outside corporations. The Nation needs to listen and work closely with local people. Fill all job positions with qualified Navajo people; many of these jobs have been open for years.

We can't let outsiders tell us what we should do. Economic development can happen at the local level by implementing sound business plans for our local communities. Within each chapter we can create jobs by building youth centers, senior citizen homes and daycare centers by focusing on the needs of our community first. Once the needs of the community are established, then we can work on the needs of the outside community like tourism. 

The Navajo Nation also must release to the Bennett Freeze survivors the monies to accomplish this; it has been almost 10 years now that freeze was lifted. Monies were used to fund a casino that has had no revenue coming back to the former Bennett Freeze areas. Helping these families should be part of the re-awakening President Begaye spoke about.

We need to make Navajo community members business owners in their own right, not outsiders. Bring the community back together to work on sustainable economies integrating eco-tourism and small business ownership.

Renae Yellowhorse, Save the Confluence Families and Supporters

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