Navajo Nation eyes Grand Canyon for development

By Felicia Fonseca

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, March 24 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

The tram would run from the East Rim and parallel the Colorado River before coming to a stop at the bottom of the canyon, where a restaurant would be located. A half-mile river walk, also running alongside the Colorado River, would give tourists a view of the confluence but stop short of it. The resort hotel and spa, other hotels, and commercial and retail space would be located on top of the canyon.

The proposed attractions could create a jurisdictional dispute, depending on their distance from the Colorado River. The Navajos believe the reservation extends to the high water mark of the Colorado River, while the National Park Service says its boundary is a quarter-mile from the river's bank along the 61-mile stretch of the Colorado before it meets the Little Colorado.

Grand Canyon park officials also want to maintain the wilderness characteristics of the East Rim, which is popular with backcountry hikers and not easily accessible, and make sure endangered species like the humpback chub are protected, said park Superintendent Dave Uberuaga. Environmental groups say the noise and light pollution would be unwelcome.

"It's not Disneyland," said Lynn Hamilton of the Grand Canyon River Guides, a canyon advocacy and environmental group. "It's one of the seven natural wonders of the world. To mar that somehow with such commercialism right there, in your face would just seem contrary to what the value of Grand Canyon is."

Environmentalists applauded the Navajo government for throwing out plans for an airport, verbally at least, though it remains in the written agreement.

Shelly has vowed to protect sacred sites, and although he initially opposed any development at the confluence, his spokesman says it is one of the premier locations on the reservation to draw tourist dollars. But the tribe still must pursue land and leases from a community that appears largely opposed.

This is what Tyrone Tsosie called his backyard as a child. He recalled his grandmother taking him out to the confluence and showing him how to use corn pollen — a staple of Navajo tradition — to pray to the rivers for blessings. Yucca root, white flowers and sage that grow there also are used for traditional and medicinal purposes, he said.

"The main thing right now for my generation, we don't want that kind of change, development out there because we don't want to lose that scenery and lose all those memories," said Tsosie, who no longer lives in the area.

Said Tome, "We're not always going to have 100 percent agreement, but we're going to do our part to bring development and jobs here to Navajo."

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