New Navajo Nation leader won't pursue Grand Canyon project

Save the Confluence opposes development plans in the Grand Canyon. Photo from STC

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye won't pursue a controversial project on tribal land near the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, the Associated Press reports.

During his inauguration ceremony on Tuesday, Begaye signed a document that said his administration would continue work on economic development projects started by his predecessor, Ben Shelly. The list included the Grand Canyon Escalade, a $1 billion tourism project that has drawn opposition on and off the reservation.

But Begaye didn't know what he was signing, a spokesperson told the AP. "[T]his administration has already stated that it does not support the Grand Canyon Escalade project and that position has not changed," the new leader said in a press release.

Artist's rendering of a tram to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Image from Grand Canyon Escalade

Some members of the Navajo Nation oppose the project out of fear it would harm sacred sites. The Save the Confluence and the Bodaway/Gap Chapter have been speaking out against the development.

The Hopi Tribe also opposes the project, whose primary feature was a tramway that would have taken visitors to bottom of the Grand Canyon. And the National Park Service raised questions about the Navajo Nation's ownership of the land where it would have been located.

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: Navajo Nation Presidential Inauguration

The document at issue listed eight economic development projects. Shelly said he met with Begaye after the election to discuss how to move forward with the work.

"This has never really happened in the history of the Navajo Nation," Shelly said of the agreement during the inauguration.

After Shelly read from the document, Begaye stepped to the podium and voiced support for the agreement.

"This is a historic [agreement] -- first time it has ever happened where you have an outgoing president and an incoming president agreeing that they will move the projects forward because it is for the people," Begaye said to applause.

Outgoing Chief Justice Herb Yazzie. Photo by Kathie Curley / Navajo Courts

The apparent death of the Grand Canyon project signifies just one of the many changes that will be coming to the Navajo Nation under new leadership. Begaye will be naming a new person to serve on the Navajo Nation Supreme Court now that Chief Justice Herb Yazzie has announced his retirement.

"For the past ten years, I have been part of a court that has had to make hard decisions often involving ruptures in relationships that, according to our deeply held principles of k'é, should properly be the responsibility of a better and more traditional system to patiently restore," Yazzie said in a statement, The Farmington Daily Times reported.

Ethel Branch. Photo from
Kanji & Katzen

Begaye is already bringing in a new leader of the Department of Justice. Ethel Branch will be nominated as the tribe's attorney general, the Kanji & Katzen law firm announced.

"As the head of the Navajo Nation Department of Justice, Ethel will have the opportunity to discharge what she rightly views as a sacred responsibility to her own nation, supervising a highly qualified team of lawyers engaged in an array of challenging and important legal matters on behalf of the country’s largest Indian nation," the firm said in a statement posted on Turtle Talk. "We have no doubt that she will work tirelessly to protect and advance the interests not only of the nation but of Indian country more generally."

Get the Story:
Navajo president takes firm stance against Grand Canyon tram (AP 5/14)
Navajo Nation Chief Justice Herb Yazzie announces retirement (The Farmington Daily Times 5/14)
New Navajo Nation President Sworn In (Fronteras 5/13)

Related Stories
Russell Begaye takes oath as new president of Navajo Nation (5/13)
Developers pursue $1B project on Navajo land by Grand Canyon (12/04)
Editorial: Think hard about Navajo Nation project in Grand Canyon (09/08)
Navajo Nation tourism proposal in Grand Canyon stirs controversy (9/4)
NPR: Grand Canyon developer says plan won't harm sacred sites (08/05)
NPS worried about Navajo Nation's Grand Canyon tourism plans (07/07)
Native Sun News: Opposition to Grand Canyon tourist project (06/10)
Navajo community divided on Grand Canyon tourist attractionm (11/29)
Hopi Tribe passes resolution opposing Navajo Nation business (10/10)
Navajo Nation sees opposition to Grand Canyon tourism project (7/31)

Join the Conversation