Hikers and campers will no longer be given permits to a chunk of the Grand Canyon East rim on the Navajo Nation because of lack of enforcement, tribal officials said.
Navajo officials suspended the permits in May, when they learned about a Bodaway/Gap Chapter resolution, which alleged the tribe’s park and recreation department failed to fulfill its mission of overseeing parks. The resolution targeted back-country permits issued to hikers or campers of Little Colorado River Tribal Park and Marble Canyon Tribal Park, which fall within the chapter’s grazing boundaries.
The Dec. 8, 2018, chapter resolution listed many reasons why back-country permits should be halted.
Martin Begaye, Navajo Parks and Recreation Department manager, said the department agreed with the chapter’s outcry over enforcement issues.
“We really don’t have any enforcement out there. People go out there, they camp and build fires, we would not know about it,” Begaye said. “We decided it’s best not to issue more permits. We are in the process of getting rangers in that area. Rangers who can watch camping sites and inspect permits that are issued.”
Begaye said rangers could be on duty by next spring, when the back-country permit program may be re-stated.
Other tribal park officials also said the Bodaway/Gap Chapter and the local parks will likely work on a proposal to address the complaints.
Navajo Parks and Recreation Department
The Navajo Parks and Recreation Department is charged with overseeing all parks on the Navajo Nation. The major parks include Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, Four Corners Monument and the Little Colorado Gorge.
The park’s website states 600,000 individuals visit tribal parks per year. Of the visitors, Little Colorado River Tribal Park Office/Visitor Center issued 2,561 permits in 2017 and dropped to 314 in 2018. Tribal park officials project the numbers will plunge in 2019.
Each permit costs about $12.
The park department’s mission is, “Protect, preserve and manage tribal parks, monuments and recreation areas for the perpetual enjoyment and benefit of the Navajo Nation…”
To achieve its mission, the department wrote it would offer visitor services, enhance visitor experiences, strengthen partnerships with the local community, offer interpretation, beef up staff development and enforce tribal laws.
Navajo businessman questions the department’s mission
For decades, chapter members complained about hikers trekking into the canyon or camping on the canyon rim. The departments Little Colorado River Tribal Park office in Cameron issued permits without notifying the chapter or land users.
The latest complaint came from Navajo businessman Franklin Martin, who owns City of Page-based Sacred Edge Tours. The tours offer views from the Navajo side of Grand Canyon on the east rim of Marble Canyon Tribal Park.
Martin, a Bodaway/Gap registered voter who grew up in the area, said he was shocked when he watched the complaints unfold in real life over several years.
People who hike or camp under tribal permits, can freely go in and “misuse” the property, he said.
“We were finding more and more non-native visitors. Tourists hiking and camping out there,” Martin said. “After they left, we found burn spots from camping on the rim. We found tire tracks on vegetation. They had hit cattle and sheep. Once we came across guys riding razors in circles in donut shapes on the land.”
Martin said he found etchings in sand stone of people’s names and vegetation used by Navajo medicine people trampled on. Other local people reported visitors sunbathing in arroyos to the chapter and the amount of trash they collected per month on the rim.
Martin added, when he checks on his cattle or guides a tour, he stops and talks to visitors, who he comes across in Bodaway. He asks them to leave but some “don’t want to leave and sometimes they get aggressive…many show the permits issued to them by the tribe.”
Martin said he reported numerous incidents to the Little Colorado River Tribal Office/Visitor Center in Cameron. Nothing came of his complaints, he said.
Local park officials would not comment on Martin’s complaints but Effie Yazzie, park manager of Lake Powell Navajo Tribal Park said, “There will be plans to address issues about back country permits. We’re not at liberty to discuss it right now.”
Chapter also questions the department’s mission
The business man drafted a resolution, which directed the tribe’s park and recreation, to stop issuing back country permits within the Gap/Bodaway Chapter grazing boundary.” He accused the department of failing to follow its mission and therefore hikers, campers and visitors were roaming freely in the tribal park.
The Bodaway/Gap Chapter agreed with him on Dec.8, 2018. The resolution dropped into oblivion at the local parks, Martin said.
Frustrated, Martin said he bypassed the Little Colorado River office and “above” Begaye’s department and met with Rudy R. Shebala, Navajo Division of Natural Resources executive director. He delivered a complaint and later on May 23, he gave the resolution to Shebala.
Shebala listened and issued a historical decision about the parks in Bodaway/Gap.
Calls to Shebala’s office by Save the Confluence were not returned.
Martin said Sacred Edge is not affected by the suspension. When he guides or drives clients to the rim, they are controlled. Accommodations, such as portable potties, are available for them.
Critics allege Martin was inspired to ban permits because of a competitive tribal back-country permit program.
Delores Wilson-Aguirre is a grassroots organizer with Save the Confluence, which successfully defeated the Grand Canyon Escalade project. Scottsdale-based developers had proposed a tourist center that featured a tram above the confluence of the Little Colorado River and Colorado River.
The Navajo Nation Council rejected the project in 2017.
Aguirre said a lesson learned from the Escalade experience is, it’s not tourists who are dangerous to the land. It’s developers such as the Scottsdale developers and local businessman Franklin Martin, who can drastically change the land, she said.
Not only do they destroy the earth by digging, they become corrupt and bend things to their will, she said.
Likewise, Aguirre believes Martin is building a springboard to making changes to the chapter’s land. He, alone, wants business in Bodaway/Gap and Aguirre said the permit ban is unfair.
“I don’t think it’s fair that only one individual, who brought the resolution have access to the land with his business,” she said. “Why is the chapter and Navajo Nation officials favoring one person over others?”
Tribal members also need a stronger role in caring for land especially disposing of litter, Aguirre said.
“Navajos are always littering everywhere,” she said. “We drive all over the place and trash the area. No laws are enforced to keep our Mother Earth clean. I think tourists are more respectful of our nation than we are.”
Martin flatly denied edging out the tribe’s back-country permit program.
Sacred Edge instead is about preserving the tribal parks, said Martin adding he won’t take tours to the Confluence. Martin said his business recognizes the Confluence area is a sacred site.
When people find non-natives on the East rim, they blame Sacred Edge for bringing tourists into the area. They refuse to blame the tribe’s back-country permits, he said.
He believes tribal-issued permits swelled during the Escalade controversial years between 2012-2017. Before the controversy exploded nation wide, few local people complained , he said.