When tribes become developers

Since the establishment of Native American reservations, tribes typically were opposing attempts by outsiders who wanted to exploit resources located on the reservations. More recently, tribes themselves have become active developers of reservation land often for casinos and related development. Quite a different sort of project was announced last month by the Navajos, who in partnership with Confluence Partners LLC propose to develop a $1 billion complex consisting of a resort hotel, spa, restaurants, retail and commercial space and a tramway to the river’s edge. The project would be located at the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers and along the east rim of the Canyon.

Not surprisingly an opposition group has already sprung up, and long established environmental groups have begun to voice their concerns. You can download a copy of the Memorandum of Understanding at Save the Confluence’s website.

While I have no doubt that there are significant environmental issues that need to be addressed, my real interest in this is the collision between culture and legal systems. Native Americans have a very different concept of property rights but have long chafed under the paternalistic and often bumbling oversight of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Environmentalists often allied themselves with tribes who were seeking to protect sacred sites on and off reservation lands. This particular project raises the prospect not only of internal conflicts within the Navajo nation but between the tribe and the federal government and environmental groups.



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