Navajos want to run river trips at Grand Canyon

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FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Navajo Nation is lobbying for one of its businessmen to run coveted river trips through the Grand Canyon.

With only one American Indian tribe currently doing so, the director of the Navajo Nation’s Division of Economic Development says it’s time to open the door to others.

Allan Begay said the Navajo Nation would like for the venture to begin soon, but Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Steve Martin said that’s unlikely. The National Park Service tightly controls the number of people who can set out on the river and a management plan isn’t up for review.

But, he said, “we also understand the importance of economic development, and the importance of working together. Our goal is to sit down with them and try to find areas where we can support one another.”

The 2006 management plan for the Colorado River was the result of years of talks among scientists, National Park Service managers and other professionals, with input from tour operators, Indian tribes and the public.

Under the plan, 24,567 people on commercial and noncommercial trips are allowed to travel down the Colorado River each year. Those seeking to raft the river in private boats are selected through a computerized lottery system and are limited to one trip per year.

The Park Service has said the plan would be in place for 10 years, but alterations could be made if necessary.

Before considering that option, Martin said he first wants to hear more about the tribe’s proposal. He said he has responded to a letter Begay sent him in February asking that Navajo businessman Mike Anderson be allowed to launch boats in the upper part of the Grand Canyon.

“I think the complexity of this situation is that we just finished a couple of years ago the Colorado River Management Plan, which evaluates the impacts and sets out a regime for management of visitor use and protection of the resources,” Martin said. “Any Navajo proposal is not in that document.”

Concerns of overburdening the canyon and the river are well-founded, Begay said, and the Park Service has the right to advocate for fewer activities along the Grand Canyon.

“The other side of that, though, is that we would be interested in taking advantage of opportunities on the same level as anybody else, and that’s the advocacy from here,” he said.

Anderson said the business would help address the lack of economic development on the Navajo Nation, where half the work force is unemployed. The tribe, which contends the reservation’s boundary extends to the middle of the Colorado River, should be able to assert its rights to the waterway, he said.

Anderson, who manages the Navajo Nation’s Antelope Point Marina at Lake Powell, said he would like to launch boats into the Colorado River from Lees Ferry.

“We’re looking to work in this development so it’s a win-win. “We’re not looking to ultimately prevent other companies from developing. If it’s in the interest and benefit of the Navajo Nation, let’s develop it.”

The Hualapai Tribe, which runs the lower river trips, is allowed 96 passengers per day during the summer months. The 2,300-member tribe’s reservation spans one million acres bordered on the north by 108 miles of river.

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