I read an article recently about how certain leaders of the Navajo nation want to build a resort and tram down to the canyon’s bottom on the eastern rim. (“Navajo Nation Eyes Grand Canyon for Development,” on Yahoo! News.) They want to create jobs and revenue for the Navajo people in the area by attracting tourists to the resort, which would require massive infrastructure additions (i.e., paving a road, inserting piping and plumbing, etc.), and would include an RV park, a restaurant on the canyon bottom, and a gondola.
On the one hand, I sympathize entirely with the plight some of these people face. I can’t imagine what it’s like to live on a reservation, or what it’s like to live in poverty. These are situations I have never had to face, and while I can understand on an intellectual level, I have never had to actually experience hunger, or poverty, or what it’s like to not have a decent roof over your head, or anything else these people may or may not have faced. The Navajo, and the native population in general, has been seriously mistreated and ignored over the past 400 years, and this is a situation that will need to be addressed. I understand that the Navajo need to find a way to bring in revenue and jobs for their people. I’ve driven through the reservation when I visited the Grand Canyon last year. I saw, to a small degree, what the Navajo face.
On the other hand, building a resort in that space that would bring in so many more people will destroy what has been protected and revered for thousands of years. Imagine what a new paved road would do to the landscape. Imagine what thousands more people coming into a space that has previously only been visited by a handful at a time in comparison would mean to the environment and the ecosystem.
Imagine how that would affect the plant and animal life in the area. We know that people are slobs. Most people ignore the orders not to feed the animals, for example. A lot of people litter, despite the best efforts of the park services to prevent it. And a gondola bringing people to the canyon bottom with a restaurant placed there as well–while it sounds like a neat idea, it also sounds like a bad one to me. I can’t see how that would in any way be a benefit for the ecosystem around that area. I can see how that would actually detract from the environment and how that would ruin the very thing the tourists are there to see.
I agree that something needs to be done to help the Navajo create jobs. If this is the absolute only way to help them, then OK. But I think a plan like this should be a last resort because of the inherent damage it will cause to the environment that they’re also trying to protect. I just can not see how this plan will be beneficial in any way to the environment of the canyon.
Another issue that I find confusing in this matter–and this likely comes from my own misunderstanding of native practices and which areas are considered sacred to which tribe, so bear with me a bit–but to my understanding, the canyon is considered a sacred area to a number of different tribes. So not only is it protected by the park service, but it’s also a sacred ancient site for Navajo and other tribes. Shouldn’t that mean that the Navajo should protect the site rather than build on it? The question arose while I read the article and I couldn’t find an answer while doing some research online on which tribes consider the canyon area sacred/protected ground. But according to my understanding of native practices, shouldn’t they be protecting the canyon rather than enacting a plan that would detract from it?
My opinion is that the resort should not be built. I hope the Navajo can find another way to attract jobs and revenue. While I think this plan would in fact bring them what they’re looking for in the short run, I think in the long run it would backfire. The canyon would begin to lose its natural appeal because of the massive changes to its environment, and the tourists would eventually stop going to a place that has lost its special appeal, the things which make it alive and wonderful and beautiful.