Monthly Archives: May 2013

Expedition to Sipapu — part four

A whole year has passed since out ill-fated journey to the fabled Sipapu and alleged location of the underground city. The videotaping of helicopter loads into the Gorge pushed the team into high gear after returning from their four-day expedition to the rim and Gary David immediately discovered that John Kyl had resurrected the Little Colorado River Water Bill in the Senate. The original bill didn’t pass, but this new Senate bill, #2109, would strip the Navajo and Hopi of their senior water rights to the Little Colorado. But there was something else going on and the team immediately found out something beyond our wildest imaginings.

Upon returning home, I called Grand Canyon National Park and spoke with a public relations person who was completely unaware of any helicopter activity going on in the LCRG. She thanked me for letting the park know about the activity and promised to look into it. Several days later, Gary called the GCNP and was told that the helicopter flights were bringing “humpbacked chub” into the Little Colorado River. Gary dryly observed that that improbable explanation sounded “fishy,” as it doesn’t take numerous loads of heavy construction materials to salt a river with fish!

The Grand Escalade Casino Proposal

Then Gary discovered a bombshell. One month prior to our trip, the Navajo Nation had quietly signed a Memorandum of Understanding to develop a $200 million casino to be constructed right on the same breath-taking promontory that we had just visited at the Confluence. The casino would include a mile-and-a-half tramway that would ferry visitors down to a restaurant and “riverwalk” at the confluence on the canyon floor—This would violate the sacred status of the nearby sipapu!

Further research has exposed the principles involved in this ill-conceived project and the utter disregard being shown with respect to Hopi and Zuni involvement. Indian casinos are an important revenue source for Native American tribes, but isn’t this going too far? Or could this project be a smokescreen for something far more important? Could it be the government and power-elite are preparing this alleged underground city as an escape pod to protect themselves during “earth changes?” Is the casino on the rim hiding an underground Disneyland for the elite? Or like the Greenbriar Hotel in White Sulpher Springs AR, could it contain a hidden underground continuation-of-government facility accessible only to a select few? As we all know, often there is more going on than meets the eye.

Another Ill-Fated Grand Canyon Project

There is a precedent to the Grand Escalde project and several of the developers and political proponents of the proposed Grand Escalade project have already shown what they can accomplish with the now-troubled Grand Canyon Skywalk—located to the west of Grand Canyon National Park on the Hualapai Indian Reservation: From the Wall Street Journal, May 13, 2013:

“The Grand Canyon Skywalk, a glass-bottomed walkway that juts out over the canyon’s edge for a view of the Colorado River 4,000 feet below, is built on stable ground. The finances of the Indian tribe-owned corporation that had it built in 2007, however, are a bit shakier.

“The Hualapai (pronounced wall-a-pie) Tribe put the corporation that owns the skywalk into bankruptcy protection on Monday after losing a court battle against Las Vegas developer David Jin, who was hired to build and manage the Arizona tourist attraction in 2003.

“Last month, a federal judge in Arizona confirmed a $28 million arbitration award against the tribe’s corporation. The ruling awards Jin’s company millions of dollars in ticket revenue that his attorneys argued were due under the agreement, USA Today reported last month. The tribal corporation, called Sa’ Nyu Wa Inc., is appealing the ruling, according to court papers.

“When Jin tried to seize the skywalk owner’s bank accounts, the entity filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.  That filing halts collection efforts and lobs the dispute to Judge Brenda Moody Whinery of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Yuma, Ariz.

“In a letter sent to tribe members about the bankruptcy, tribal Chairwoman Sherry Counts said that Jin doesn’t have access to the tribe’s budget. The tribe itself isn’t in bankruptcy, she emphasized.

“The tribal corporation hired Jin’s company to design and build the Skywalk and then manage it for 30 years. The deal streamed ticket revenue to Jin for constructing the roughly $30 million project.

“But last year, council members voted to condemn that management contract and take over the operations, arguing that Jin’s company didn’t build a visitors center as the contract had required.

“Bankruptcy court papers filed Monday show that the tribe had recently transferred the Skywalk’s management to another tribal entity. The company under Chapter 11 protection does “not have the ability or intention to continue its business operations,” its chief executive, Jennifer Turner, said in court papers.

“Jin’s attorney, Mark Tratos, called that transfer of the Skywalk’s operations “highly unusual and somewhat suspicious.” … “We’ll further investigate,” said Tratos.

“Most of the Hualapai tribe’s roughly 2,300 members live on the Arizona reservation, which covers one million acres of land that trace 108 miles of the Grand Canyon. The reservation’s capitol, Peach Springs, was the inspiration for the town of Radiator Springs in Pixar’s animated movie “Cars,” according to the tribe’s website.

“The reservation’s economy depends upon cattle ranching, craft-making and tourism, which grew after the tribe opened its doors to visitors in 1988. The Skywalk and surrounding region attract about 370,000 visitors each year, said tribe spokesman Dave Cieslak.”  [end of article]

News of the Grand Escalade project last spring erupted into a highly-charged controversy on the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni Reservations with opponents organizing in an attempt to stop further plans to develop the confluence location. The battle lines have been drawn and enough opposition to the project has put its assessment and development phase in jeopardy. Local Navaho share their thoughts at meeting:

The Developers Speak-Out:

Here is a carefully-worded press release from grandcanyonescalade.com, the official website of the development partners working with certain moneyed Navajo principles:

“We have been researching Sacred Sites because there has been so much talk about them by the opponents of the Escalade project. Because the proposed Escalade project is NEAR the Confluence and a prayer/offering site (not on them mind you, just near them) and within a few miles by air from the Salt Trail and the Hopi Sipapu we are told that the Escalade would be a desecration of Sacred Sites.  So we decided to find out what is happening today on these same Sacred Sites.

“We already posted that the Sierra Club is guiding hikes down the Salt Trail to the Hopi Sipapu and the Confluence for only $995 a person (click here for link).  Now we find out that the National Park Service issues permits for 24,657 river runners, 16 commercial raft companies, and over 13,000 hiking permits each year.  And 2006 Park Service regulations in effect today allow for motorized rafts, generators and helicopter insertion and extraction at two locations downstream of the Confluence.  So where do 24,657 people go to party?  Why the Confluence of course!  It turns out that this is a primary stopping point, and they don’t stop nearby, they stop right on the Confluence, a Sacred Site.  And what do they do when they stop?  Why, they hike to the Sipapu and use the Salt Trail and Swim in the Little Colorado River.  We keep asking ourselves why there is no outcry by the Save the Confluencee folks.  Why isn’t it OK for the Navajo to charge $40 to ride a gondola to a secure site close to the Confluence but its ok to charge $2850 per rafter so they can tie up right on the Sacred Site and party?  I guess that’s why Grand Canyon River Guides oppose the Escalde and has joined with Save The Confluence.  Can’t have the Navajo making any money while they are raking it in.” [end of article]

The project’s media propaganda in 2013 has swung into high-gear. Project spokesperson and development engineer Keith Lamparter takes exception to opponents assertion that the area is sacred and that the media covering this controversial is being fair and impartial. He mentions the “economic” considerations that the project should be judged by. He fails to mention that a vast majority of jobs created by the project would undoubtedly be part-time minimum wage jobs flipping burgers, cleaning trash and making beds.

Lamparter is also responsible for the creation and maintenance the Escalade project’s official website. He summed up the project’s latest 2013 activities, attempted to downplay the revered religious significance of the Sipapu location in the Little Colorado River Gorge and complained about the organized opposition to the project:

“The year started with a helicopter ride to the bottom of the Grand Canyon to visit first-hand the proposed location of the gondola landing and the Riverwalk.  We landed about a mile upstream of the Confluence in the Little Colorado River gorge and hiked to the Confluence with the Colorado River.  We were accompanied by a Cultural Affairs Specialist from the Navajo Nation who was there to identify Traditional Cultural Places (TCP’s, some of which are known as “Sacred Sites”) and explain to us the complexities of TCP’s, how some are sacred, some are not and some are more sacred than others.  We also learned the difference between a sacred site and a prayer offering site and more.  With instruction from our Cultural Affairs Specialist we all performed the corn pollen offering and prayer before we left the Confluence.  I also saw (although we were careful not to visit) the Hopi sipapu, where the Hopi are said to have emerged into the current Fourth World from the previous Third World.  I went on to become educated about the Navajo Nation Cultural Resources Protection Act which requires by law the protection and preservation of TCP’s (and “Sacred Sites”) and agreements between the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Nation regarding protection of the Salt Trail and Little Colorado River Gorge access to the Hopi sipapu.  We also solicited help and guidance from multiple Traditional Cultural Specialists (so called ”Medicine Men”) regarding what was right and proper in terms of the Project and the Confluence and the point above the Confluence on the Canyon rim.

“So I was more than a little dismayed when the opponents to the project seized upon “Save the Sacred Sites” as a slogan and rallying cry in their campaign against the Escalade project and alleging the project would desecrate “Sacred Sites”.  What bothered me the most was that the opponents were aware that this cannot occur by Navajo law and regulation and still made the claims and enlisted well-meaning but poorly educated believers in their cause.  I was corresponding with one of the leaders of SavetheConflunce via Facebook and I conceded that while using the Sacred Sites issue was an effective tool in their campaign, I felt strongly that it was ultimately destructive to the Navajo community and would do far more harm than good to their cause in the long-term.  I understand that a campaign is being waged by both sides in this debate, and both sides are highlighting their side of the story, but to me intentionally seizing on and misleading on religious issues is and was wrong and improper.  My understanding is that the opposition leaders are not practitioners of traditional Navajo religious beliefs.  If they were I doubt they would have used this tactic.  I do know that they did not elevate their status in the eyes of most Navajo that I have spoken with.

“Another of my tasks this past year was to analyze the feasibility and practicality of building a gondola to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  Most people don’t realize that current Navajo and U.S.  Environmental Law require the measurement, mitigation and monitoring of any impacts from construction and operation of new facilities within any environmentally sensitive area.  In doing this analysis I looked at other major construction projects within the Grand Canyon in the past.  The most relevant project that we looked at was the highway bridge across the Colorado River at Marble Canyon that was built in 1995.  The construction of this bridge was far more impactful on the canyon and the river below than anything proposed at the Escalade project and yet has had virtually no negative impact on the canyon or the river.  Millions of people cross this bridge each year.  Yet there was no outcry from rafters, environmentalists or people opposed to the desecration of the Canyon.  It is and will continue to be far more visible than anything proposed at the Escalade project.  There are many more examples available, from ongoing construction and improvements at Lee’s Ferry, to the work at Phantom Ranch, etc.  Frankly, from a factual and non-emotional standpoint, Construction of the Escalade project will have very little impact to the canyon or the river when compared to the Marble Canyon Bridge and will have many positive benefits in terms of enhancing river and Canyon monitoring and policing.

“I also learned that much of what we think of as news is really advocacy disguised as journalism.  We were contacted by several news outlets wanting to run stories on the proposed Escalade project.  We initially cooperated only to find that these were advocacy pieces with an agenda that intentionally misrepresented or omitted facts to fit their agenda (save the earth, save the planet, save the Canyon, etc.).  I was naively shocked to see how poorly researched and written news stories were picked up and reposted on multiple websites without a fact check or an attempt at verification.  It really hit home when I received a comment on our website from a very distressed individual opposed to the project because she had heard and read on the Web and Facebook that we were going to have fast food restaurant signs hanging in the Grand Canyon and open sewage pits and bright lights illuminating the Canyon from the rim.  I responded to her comments assuring her that her fears were unfounded, explained to her that doing any of these things would make people not want to visit the project which works against our interests, and went on to have a very nice conversation about the project and our intentions.  The old adage about buyer beware really applies to information in this new age.  You have to be very careful in choosing what information to believe and pro-active in getting your own story out early and often.

“This brings me to my experience building the Escalade website and Facebook presence and receiving and responding to the comments from readers.  I personally viewed our web presence not just as an electronic file cabinet for technical details of the project, but as a way to educate people on why we were proposing the project, why the project was important and to explain our point of view.  I also felt it was important to respond to comments, to thank the many people who supported the project and to at least try and set the record straight with those who opposed it.  The comments we received educated me on how others viewed the project and why they held the views they held.  Often, the comments that we received became the inspiration for the posts that I would write at a later date.  What really opened my eyes was how within minutes of a new post on our website, or a new comment posting to Facebook, hundreds of people would be instantly alerted and begin reading and responding which set off another round of views and comments.  This really is the new world where a cellular smart-phone is essential and we can communicate with hundreds and thousands of people simultaneously and instantly.  The downside of this new world of communication is that people can toss verbal fireballs at will without any repercussions and feel no need to really engage or think.  I have come to believe that this lack of accountability and human interaction leads to the gridlock we see at so many levels these days, particularly in government.  It is so easy to just be against things and find fault with everyone and everything without offering any alternative.  In another of my Facebook conversations with one of the leaders of the SavetheConfluence opposition I wrote that their concerns about the Escalade project and some of its sponsors could be much better addressed by becoming a participant in the process.  At least that way they could help shape the outcome rather than have no outcome.  I felt then and feel now that simply stopping the project while providing no real alternative helped no-one and wasn’t a victory to be proud of.

“So after several months of writing and reading and responding about Escalade, support or opposition to the project tends to come down to haves and have-nots.  Those that generally live off the reservation and have homes, jobs, running water, electricity and access to schools, medical care and modern services oppose the project, hold the Grand Canyon as a “sacred church” as one commenter referred to it, and feel that the Navajo should abdicate their rights to determine the uses on their lands adjacent to the Grand Canyon.  Those that live on the Navajo Reservation, with limited job opportunities, limited or no modern utilities, and without ready access to basic services and conveniences support the project, view the Canyon as a natural wonder and believe the lands which lie within the borders of the Navajo Nation should be used to provide for the sustainable economic development of the Western Region in particular and the Navajo Nation in general just as Canyon DeChelly, Monument Valley and other areas have seen responsible development.  It really is as simple as that.  All the talk about sacred sites and save the confluence and this and that is nothing more than a distraction from the real bottom line.  If you are doing just fine and your world is good then there is no need to do this project because there is nothing in it for you.  I don’t mean to sound overly harsh, but that is the cold hard reality of the situation.

“This brings me to looking forward.  What will the Navajo Nation President and Council Delegates do, or will they do nothing?  The Bodaway/Gap Chapter voted to approve the project and then elected a new Chapter President that is a supporter of the project.  So the local support that President Shelly requested has been provided in clear and convincing fashion.  The fate of the project is really in the President and Councils hands now.

“In considering their options on how to deal with the Escalade project, one must look at a bigger picture.  According the Navajo tribal government, almost 48% of all Navajo are now forced to live off reservation because of a lack of jobs, housing and basic services.  They predict that by 2014 more than half of all Navajo will be living off reservation.  The amount of money leaving the reservation as a result of this exodus is staggering.  According to the Navajo Nation Economic Development Department, 71% of all money earned by Navajo’s is spent in off-reservation communities and this revenue loss will grow larger as more and more Navajo are forced to leave the reservation.  At the same time, the primary sources of jobs and income to the Navajo and the Navajo Nation are the coal burning electricity generating stations across northern Arizona and the coal mining operations that feed them.  According to the NN Economic Development Department, royalties, taxes and business payments from mining operations account for 30% of the total Navajo Nation general budget revenues and 80% of the workers in the coal operations are Navajo.  When the generating stations are forced to close or significantly cut back operations, and with recent EPA rulings against coal burning by the operators of the plants they certainly will in the foreseeable future, the current 50% unemployment rate on the Navajo Nation and corresponding poverty rate will explode at the same time that Navajo Nation revenues and ability to provide services will plummet.  What then?  What are they going to do to prepare for that inevitable day?  That is the real decision facing President Shelly and the Council Delegates.

“That is why the Escalade project is so important.  If the project is built it will replace up to 30-35% of current general budget revenues and provide stability to the entire Navajo Nation, not just the Bodaway-Gap and Cameron areas.  So while there is a widespread perception that this project is primarily about people getting rich off the Navajo Nation and the Grand Canyon, the basic premise has always been on how to remedy the widespread poverty and resulting social impacts of the Western Agency area.  Yes, theoretically some people will make money, but that should not obscure the tremendous positive benefit that the project will have for the local population and the Navajo Nation as a whole.  My response to those who say that the financial projections are overstated and a fantasy is that they are probably understated and the project will be much more successful than projected.  But assuming for the sake of argument that I concede the point and say they are overstated by 100% and will produce only half of what is projected.  This would still amount to 15-18% of the current general budget revenues to the Navajo Nation.  There is nothing that has been proposed by opponents to the project or by the Navajo Nation Economic Development Department that produces even a small fraction of the return to the Nation that Escalade will bring and at the cost of less than half of one new casino.  I personally believe that this is what is behind much of the Hopi opposition to the project.  They have recently embarked on an ambitious plan to open up parts of their reservation to tourism and new development.  I think they are terrified that the Escalade project will pre-empt their plans and siphon off the tourism business they are counting on.  They are even more dependent on coal revenues than the Navajo Nation and certainly see the same handwriting on the wall.  The Salt Trail and sipapu issues are nothing more than cover in my opinion.

“To me, the Navajo Nation President and Council have no choice but to formally move forward with serious consideration and examination of the project.  Yes, there are many issues still to resolve, yes there is much scrutiny, due diligence and underwriting to be done.  There will have to be appraisals, environmental assessments, cultural reviews, and evidence of financial capacity presented by Confluence Partners before the final green light is given.  If the project proves to be unworkable so be it.  But to do nothing?  That would be the worst of all outcomes.  But then, I come from a world of logic and reason and cause and effect, not the world of politics and emotion that this project has found itself in” [end of article].

I find it ironic that the developers fail to mention that the late-coming Navajo (who arrived less than 100 years before the Spanish) do NOT consider the Canyon as their most sacred site. The high esteem and sacredness that the Hopi and Zuni hold the sipapu/confluence location is briefly mentioned but not fully explained. This is the Pueblo Indians most sacred site, and although they have not been politically in control of the location for many decades, they still revere and hold sacred the sipipau which is under Navajo political control. Shouldn’t the Hopi and Zuni have a major say in this matter? Should they have the right to determine the site’s disposition? Evidently, not — according to the eager developers w/ dollar signs dazzlimg their tunnel vision!

 

A Petition to the White House Against the Project:

According to this article – http://news.yahoo.com/navajo-nation-eyes-grand-canyon-development-170019476.html

“The vast 27,000 square-mile Navajo reservation abuts Grand Canyon National Park, and tribal leaders say they’re losing out on tourist dollars and jobs for their people by leaving the land undeveloped. Navajo President Ben Shelly recently signed a nonbinding agreement that lists the gondola, a restaurant, a half-mile river walk, a resort hotel and spa and RV park among the attractions of a proposed development that he says will bring up to $70 million a year in revenue to the tribe and 2,000 jobs to the impoverished reservation.”

“With development of any part of this canyon, we attack the ecosystems within the canyon itself. This plan would bring pollution from tourists and the degradation of scenery in ways that cannot be undone.

“The Grand Canyon is one of the most spectacular sights I’ve ever seen. I want this land protected from development for the benefit of future generations. We do not know what environmental impacts this development may have. We do know that it would cause an ugly display of commercialism in a pristine environment that people fought to protect.

“The Navajo Reservation borders the eastern rim of the canyon. The water from the Colorado River flows south and west through the canyon. This means that any pollutants that contaminate the waterways by the tourists at the eastern edge of the park will affect the canyon as a whole!

“Imagine seeing plastic bottles and bags and other garbage floating down the Colorado River!

“Imagine the effects of other pollutants entering the Colorado River on the canyon’s scenery!

“Imagine looking to the west at fantastic scenery, then to the east at a gaudy tourist trap!

“It’s up to us to keep this land protected. Fight this development. Sign the petition.

[petition to President Barack Obama]

To:

The President of the United States

The U.S. Senate

The U.S. House of Representatives

The Governor of AZ

The AZ State Senate

The AZ State House

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly

Confluence Partners LLC

I just signed the following petition addressed to: Navajo Nation.

 

—————-

Sincerely,

Sincerely,

[Your name]

The Arizona Republic Adds a Voice:

Here is a recent article from the Arizona Republic that puts the current situation into perspective:

“When visitors see the dizzying depth of the Grand Canyon, someone inevitably quips, “Where’s the elevator?” The Navajo Nation is looking to create one. An aerial tramway would carry people from the rim to river level. The ride is the centerpiece of a planned tourist complex, where the reservation borders the east end of Grand Canyon National Park. The site, at the confluence of the Little Colorado and Colorado rivers, is rugged and remote. The national park manages this stretch of the Colorado River as a potential wilderness area, where the imprint of humans is substantially invisible.

“And now the Navajo project aims to attract 3 million visitors a year. As soon as 2015. All around the Grand Canyon, enterprising businesses are cashing in. Developers are eager to help Navajos share in the profits. But at what cost to traditional ways, sacred places and the natural world of the Grand Canyon? The Navajo Nation needs jobs and economic development. But this project at this location puts too much in jeopardy. And it’s likely to set off a long, expensive legal battle over whether the frontage along the Colorado River belongs to the tribe or the national park.

“In February, tribal President Ben Shelly signed a non- binding agreement with a Scottsdale development group, Confluence Partners, to get the deal rolling. Most of the project, dubbed Grand Canyon Escalade, would be on the rim, with hotels, a “signature” restaurant, an RV park and a cultural center to share the Navajos’ story. The tram, with eight-person gondolas, would descend about 3,300 feet in a 1.4 mile trip. At the bottom, visitors would find a trail, restrooms, an amphitheater for educational programs and a restaurant — although, for liability reasons, no access to actually dip a toe into the Colorado.

“The development raises troubling questions about its impact on the Grand Canyon. Water, for a start. It would be hauled in, the developers say. But would it be pumped from a spot that impacts springs in the Canyon, critical water sources for plants and animals? Lights from the development could degrade the incredible view of stars from one of the darkest places in the continental U.S.

“Not all Navajos are on board with the plan, despite the lure of jobs. The local Bodaway-Gap community formed a group, People of the Confluence, to oppose large-scale developments and commercialization at their end of the Grand Canyon. A few years ago, they rejected a proposed helipad.

“The confluence is sacred to at least three tribes, especially the Hopis, whose tribal council voted to oppose the Escalade.

“The national park restricted raft trips on the Colorado River to respect the use of sacred sites. However sensitive the developers say they’ll be, a tramway and major tourist development aren’t spiritual additions to the landscape.

“The Escalade proposal is so costly — up to $1 billion at build-out — that it would be easy to dismiss as another grand scheme to profit from the Grand Canyon. That’s what a lot of people thought about a glass viewing platform at the west end of the canyon. And the Hualapais now have a stream of visitors to Skywalk, with optional helicopter trips to the river for a raft ride. That end of the canyon will never be the same. And now the east end is in play. Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/viewpoints/articles/

“This controversy surrounding the Grand Escalade Project is bound to continue. But we should ask ourselves: at what point do we allow ourselves to re-define an ancient, already-established definition of what is “sacred?”  With what measure will we allow ourselves to impinge upon this sense of “sacredness,” in an effort to create cash-flow and limited opportunities for the many and millions in profits for the few?” [end of article]

For further information about the Grande Escalade Casino Project go to: http://grandcanyonescalade.com and here is where to go to voice your : www.savetheconfluence.com…

The sipapu expedition team will keep you updated about any further developments on the casino project and also we’ll keep up updated about our plans for a return expedition to re-discover the entrance to Kincaid’s Cave—this time w/ a team on the river w/ rock-climbers working w/ a mapping team on the rim…