Monday, February 13, 2012

Hualapai - NPS Core Team; Oct 2004 meeting: De-Cooperation

In three previous entries on this story, posted January 2011, I summarized and discussed all the documents which the Park had furnished me under a FOIA request. The last meeting of the original series, held in October 2004, was not covered because its minutes had not been approved. However, in reading through the documents, I found that participants in a follow-up meeting in 2007 had decided that approval was not required. So I requested the Oct 2004 minutes on that basis, and recently received a copy. I am grateful for this, for these minutes provide a substantive answer to the question of why such a seemingly successful process as the Core Team meetings stopped. I note that the meetings were not public, so there was no reporting on them, and perhaps no news at all, although I have not checked newspaper archives.

To recap, over the years 2000-4, the highest authorities of Grand Canyon National Park, the Hualapai Tribe, and Lake Mead National Recreation Area had met several times a year to discuss issues that arose in connection with management of river affairs in an Area of Cooperation, i.e., the river and its shore where the Hualapai and Park lands adjoin, down into Lake Mead. Judging from the formal minutes only, this appeared to be a useful and productive enterprise. The issues were significant, and not always easily susceptible to full resolution. The will to continue, however, never seemed impaired. Significantly, the three top participants remained the same.

In June 2004, things changed. The Hualapai had elected a new chair, Charles Vaughn. He had the tribal counsel read out several grievances, a list attributed to the previous chair, oddly enough. The meeting continued, but appeared to be quite stiff, even argumentative. The details are near the end of my Summary, posted 11 Jan 2011. What follows is my reading of the October 2004 minutes.*  As Margo said in "All About Eve": Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night!

8 October 2004, Boulder City (hotel), LMNRA

Core Team: GCNP Sup't & Dep. Sup't
LMNRA Sup't & Dep. Sup't
Hualapai Chairman
Also 19: 6 Park, 9 HT, 4 LM

Vaughn wasted no time; when asked at Opening if the usual procedure would be followed of allowing staff to speak without being called upon, "he said that he would call on tribal representatives when it was appropriate that they speak." He asked "for the opportunity to review the minutes from the June 16, 2004 meeting for potential changes…The focus of the Hualapai Nation comments in the minutes (would) be his comments, not those of his staff."

Vaughn continued, attacking on overflights. [This was not, on the surface, an issue the Core Team would deal with, since it arose from a law that was intended to help restore natural sound levels over the Park. However, Hualapai helicopter operations to carry river passengers in & out and for Vegas sightseeing affected the non-Hualapai users of the Area of Cooperation. So far as I know, these operations were not run by Hualapai, but by whitefolk companies contracting with the Hualapai. In any case, the operations located near Whitmore  were specifically to be taken up by the process of writing the new river management plan (CRMP).] 

What triggered Vaughn was a Flagstaff meeting hosted by NPS and the Federal Aviation Authority. He objected to information about the Hualapai being distributed without permission. A FAA-NPS agreement did not include the Hualapai as "sovereign", but only as an "interested party". He stated NPS has a "trust responsibility" and should look out for Hualapai interests. [Vaughn's rhetoric confounds NPS duties with those of the Secretary.] If harm to Hualapai economic development "continues", they would leave the Core Team and "assert their rights in another forum". [From my point of view, the Park had been leaning over backward for years to accommodate Hualapai industrial, mechanized mass tourism. So was this a Hualapai  proto-dictator demagoguing or was it indeed part of a strategic attack aimed at wresting control of the lower river?] The CRMP did not reflect the Hualapai position; as a sovereign, they should be exempt from NPS regulation. The Hualapai had asked for a river concession to run trips from Lees Ferry; NPS has the authority to grant it. The Hualapai is required to do things other river concessions do not have to. "All the other operators are from Flagstaff except Hatch, which demonstrates discrimination." [Factually, this is false, but even if they were all from Flagstaff, so what?] The Hualapai are the "only Tribe in the river corridor". [Not true; the Navajo occupy the same status along the river shore below the Paria.] Hualapai cooperation has not been reciprocated. NPS is rigid in the CRMP, while the Hualapai have reduced their numbers. The Hualapai claim to the river center, but this is not stated in the CRMP or on NPS maps. [And rightly, since the sovereign United States does not recognize the Hualapai claim, having set the reservation boundary on the south shore.] NPS is uncertain of its claim, since they have not removed the Hualapai from the Park. [And we can well ask, should not the Park have followed the hothead route and asserted United States sovereignty through some physical action, e.g. building a fence on the historic high water line at Diamond Creek, and arresting Hualapai that come down to the river? Or reciprocally, why did not the Hualapai arrest NPS rangers who had boats on "their" side of the middle line? The silliness of this just points up the weirdness of Vaughn's behavior.] 

Park Sup't Alston now replied. [Was he steaming? What kept him in his seat? Did he have any real hope of regaining the tone of the previous 4+ years of meetings?] We have come a long way to cooperate; we have met in the middle; we are willing to review "Charlie's comments" and respond for the record; we wont respond point-by-point now. The Interior Solicitor is involved; the Park relies on that legal advice; the Hualapai receive the same advice. The reason we meet regularly is because we have different perspectives. 

Alston went after the FAA; their relationship "has been contentious". The FAA released the numbers; NPS had agreed to keep them confidential. After a year's work, NPS and FAA were ready to talk to the public. The FAA was told it should consult with the tribe, and should improve in the future. Later, he added that "the only agreement between FAA and NPS is that they will stop arguing with each other".

Unmollified, "Charlie" reiterated that only the Hualapai can represent their interests. Furthermore, the Park and the Hualapai are unable to resolve other issues like law enforcement and permitting. [Very true; as the previous meetings had shown, the lawyers were having a good time, but nothing was accomplished.] Vaughn brought up again the complaint that river runners land on the Hualapai side, but pay nothing. [Very true, and way back in the 1970's, the Park should have found a way to accomplish this; instead they claimed they did not have the authority, which I doubt.] Vaughn zinged in from another angle: he had been called about a river fatality. [It is hard to credit this as a rational strategy of laying out a case; much more like a strategy that wildness will intimidate and carry the day.] The Hualapai always make the concessions; that will not continue. 

Sup't Dickinson of Lake Mead "respected Charlie's observations. His were a fresh set of eyes on a long-term process." [Indeed he said he had been attending such meetings for 10 years, so there must have been something going on before the Core Team was set up in 2000.] Dickinson thought the Core Team brought understanding, if not agreement. Too bad if the process were abandoned.

When facilitator Orton asked if the meeting should go on, Vaughn said his position was now in the record, and they could continue. However, in the near future the Hualapai may quit the Core Team. He wanted to see the FAA-NPS agreement and wanted it review to include the Hualapai. When Alston replied there wasnt one, Vaughn said he would present "an issue paper" on how others are to work with the Hualapai. 

Alston insisted NPS would be a Hualapai advocate and help present their concerns to the FAA. He also described two fatalities. He thought they had carefully described the boundary in the CRMP. 

Quickly, Vaughn charged there had been an NPS visit to the Hualapai overlook without notification to them. NPS said notification had been given. Charlie said then that since a lawyer had been with them, he himself should have been notified, and someone had complained to the FAA about safety, "hot fueling". The Hualapai are open to safety suggestions, but "they are the final arbiters on their land". 

[There is a bit more, but at this point, it is very clear why the Core Team ended and the Park abrogated the memorandum on the boundary and an Area of Cooperation. The only possible strategy for NPS would be to finish up the CRMP, and see what the Hualapai did.]

After some other matters, the Hualapai reported on a meeting at which they had attempted to convince the solicitor they should have a full-river concession, after they had written to the Secretary. The Park supported  "exploring the idea", but the solicitor said the Park cannot directly negotiate a permit with the Hualapai. Legislation would be required; NPS support for that is in the CRMP EIS. Vaughn countered that 36 CFR does too allow NPS to grant an "Indian preference". By not granting a permit, NPS is hurting the tribe economically and is liable. The Hualapai attorney suggested NPS set up another meeting, since they want to "talk directly with the decision makers".

LM reported that lake level challenges continue. The Hualapai request for a Pearce Ferry road is being considered. All were in agreement that the take-out process at Diamond was working out. Research permit notification was improving, but not fully satisfactory. Vaughn complained about a Park map he had seen recently. Alston said he would look into it. 

The CRMP EIS executive summary was distributed. CDs had been mailed with the full document, and comments were due by Jan 2005. The Hualapai were asked to attend public meetings; travel funds were available. They were going to have "trial runs" of the meetings first, and there would be training on media and hostile audiences.

When Alstron tried to start substantive discussion of the summary, Vaughn said NPS did not understand the plan's impact on Hualapai economic development. The Hualapai would be better off as "intervenors", and they were not interested in working cooperatively since NPS "has proven to be adverse to the Tribe's interests". The tribal attorney said she planned litigation unless NPS agrees it has no jurisdiction to regulate Hualapai activities, so it would be better to have no further discussion. Alston expressed disappointment. Vaughn said he had to leave, and he would meet with his staff and let others know if they would continue with the Core Team Process.

[So perhaps, NPS let the Hualapai drop the knife. Was Vaughn a wild man? He is still a tribal council member, and involved in the current fracas over the skywalk. What role did the tribal attorney play? Had they developed an overall river/boundary strategy? Was this just part of a bullying technique to gain some advantage? Were internal Hualapai politics involved? Did any of the parties lose anything by the Core Team process ending? What role is there for cooperation to play when the issues are so delicate and the process subject to a change in even one of the principals?]

*By the way, the minutes do not indicate who took them; usually it was one of the Park staff members. I have kept the same format as in my 11 Jan entry. [My comments are in square brackets.]

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