PILLOW HILL – On the Western Navajo Nation

Perhaps the biggest gathering of STC (Save the Confluence) families, supporters, and Navajo leaders came about at Pillow Hill, Southern Bodaway, West of The Gap, Ariz., on September 23rd. 2023. To put the timeline in perspective, in 1966 the U.S. put a halt on development within a portion of Western Navajo. This was known as the Bennett Freeze. In 2009, about 42 years later, the Bennett Freeze was resolved without any monetary assistance to the people who vacated and wanted to return. That was just about the time when a former Navajo Nation president partnered with a Scottsdale, Ariz., developer who proposed a tourist hub that would be known as the Escalade above the confluence of the two rivers: the Colorado and the Little Colorado.

Navajo Nation Council delegates pose with Save the Confluence member Earlene Reid (second from left) at the overlook of the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers. From left, they are Dr. Andy Nez, council Speaker Crystalyne Curley, Brenda Jesus and Cherilyn Yazzie.

Back then a small group of residents with ties to that area formed the STC. It took about 8 years of building resistance against the project. Today STC looks back to October 31, 2017 when the Navajo Nation Council voted to defeat the Escalade project. If the NN Executive and Legislative branches had approved the project, then the area would be wide open to any tourist.

There would be hotels, a visitor center, a museum, a Navajo Cultural Center and a gondola that would ferry tourists to the river. The developers would have been pocketing 92 cents of each dollar!! Many other promises were made to secure support for the project.

Since the downfall of the Escalade, STC has been asking local chapters and Council Delegates to help us forward a bill to designate the Confluence and other places along the two rivers as sacred sites. This would, essentially, block outside developers from encroachment.

Recently STC and Grand Canyon Trust notified the developer who proposed to build a dam down Big Canyon of the 80,000 signatures in opposition to the dam. Today as I write this editorial, environmental threats to Black Mesa and Chaco Canyon reminds me of what STC stood up against. If those sites as well as many others are declared sacred sites, then outside developers would have to consult Native government leaders and the people.

Sometimes the weakest link is the lack of Navajo leadership, in general terms. STC has been asking the Navajo Nation for assistance in the aforementioned sacred site designation. Sixty ears is a long time. At this gathering we were honored to be in the presence of Navajo Nation Council Speaker Crystalyne Curley, Delegate Dr. Andy Nez, Delegate Cherilyn Yazzie, and Delegate Brenda Jesus. They did what all leaders should do, go out to meet the people and to listen. Council Delegates from Tuba City, Gap/Bodaway and Cameron were not in attendance.

STC and Grand Canyon Trust invited all 24 Delegates. These outside developers will continue to exploit the loopholes. Sacred sites designation is a must.

William LongReed, grew up in Bodaway, Ariz., as a shepherd. He received a master’s degree in biology from Stanford University then taught for nearly 30 years at Tuba City High School before retiring. He has a home east of Pillow Hill, and divides his time between there and Tempe.