Sunday, January 26, 2020

A Navajo Navy?


The (Murky) Situation
According to a January 17 letter from Grand Canyon National Park Acting Superintendent:

“Navajo Nation Army Corps of Engineers Permit – The Navajo Nation has recently applied for and received a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers (COE) to construct a dock along the Colorado River, downstream of Lees Ferry, Arizona, within Grand Canyon National Park. The approved dock measures 12 feet long and 128 feet wide, accessed by two gangways, each measuring 60 feet long and 6 feet wide, connected to the shoreline. The stated purpose, in the application to the COE, is to conduct law enforcement patrols along the Colorado River, from Lees Ferry (river mile 0) to the Little Colorado River confluence (River Mile 61), focusing on natural and cultural resource violations. DOI Solicitor’s Michael Williams and Robert Eaton have been in contact with the legal counsel for COE, expressing the DOI concern for the issuance of the permit without consultation with DOI or NPS. The Navajo Nation interprets the western boundary of the Navajo Nation differently than the DOI solicitors, variously claiming the middle of the Colorado River or the shoreline along Marble Canyon (eastern Grand Canyon). The 1975 Act proposed the rim of Grand Canyon through Marble Canyon as the boundary with the concurrence of the Navajo Nation. To date no record of concurrence exists. The DOI solicitors have affirmed, in writing in 1969 and 2003, that the eastern boundary of GRCA is ¼ mile east of the eastern or southern shore of the Colorado River.

Acting on this news, River Runners for Wilderness sought more information, and ran into bureaucratic thickets. 

The Army Corps office in Phoenix did know about the permit, saying it had been applied for by Martin Begaye, head of the Nation's Parks and Recreation Department. In order to see the details of the permit, we will have to file a FOIA request with the Corps. 

To date, there has been no answer at Mr. Begaye's office. (See below * for more activity by Navajo Parks and Recreation.)

The effort to understand the situation led to dead ends from Interior attorneys Michael Williams and Robert Eaton. The attorneys were totally unforthcoming, Eaton emailing: "I  can't comment on this matter or provide you with legal advice. But I can say the fact that certain navigable waters of the United States are located within a unit of the National Park System, by itself, doesn't divest the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of its regulatory jurisdiction over those waters under various federal statutes.

Williams, over the phone, was even less friendly. And the regional public affairs office for the Park Serivce, to which they referred RRFW, is also not available when called. The Park's public affairs office knew only that the dock was a multi-jurisdictional matter.

Questions, No Answers Yet
The biggest questions would be to Mr. Begaye: Given the laudable goal of patrolling the left, Navajo, bank of the Colorado from the river, which is within the National Park from the Paria to the Little Colorado, what sort of patrolling does he envisage? What kind of interaction does he contemplate with commercial. DIY, and other river runners? Will there be any impact on landings or camping? Are Navajo permits contemplated for left bank use? 
Given that GCNP has extensive rules, as well as jurisdiction, over river traffic, will the Navajo patrols obey the Park, e.g., obtaining permits, not running upstream? For that matter, why didnt Mr Begaye begin this initiative by contacting the Park? The Park letter indicates no contact; surely it is in the interest of all involved that the Park and the Nation work in a cooperative manner under the operative section 6 of the 1975 GCNP Enlargement Act.

The letter and the involvement of Interior Solicitor attorneys imply the question of the boundary is involved. Mr. Eaton wrote a summary of what he thought about that question back in 2003. It is, unfortunately, not error-free, and reaches this erroneous conclusion:
"Therefore, we believe that the President's 1969 proclamation … terminated occupancy and use rights that the 1934 Navajo Boundary Act had conditionally granted to the Navajo Indians to the lands formerly included in" 447 and AR7-4. 
The implication of this opinion is that these attorneys may decide to dispute the right of the Navajo Nation to patrol the left bank, given their mistaken "affirmation" that the Park boundary is 1/4 mile up the left bank. 

Any such dispute would be truly unfortunate, since what is needed is cooperation between the Park and the Nation. It is sad that at this time, there is no permanent Superintendent for the Park, for this is a matter, extending into the future, that could do much to build beneficial relations between Park and Nation, as per the 1975 Act.

A Related Matter
* According to Save The Confluence's website, (, last August Parks Manager Begaye, joining in with the Bodaway/Gap Chapter, suspended granting permits for back-country hiking and camping along the Grand Canyon's Navajo Rim (Little Colorado and Marble Canyon Tribal Parks (see map below)). He said that the Parks department could do little enforcement about camping and fires, and he hoped to add park rangers for the area. 

The website article continues that the question about visitor impacts is long-standing and complicated.(Indeed the suspension was later lifted, except for Tatahatso Point.) Perhaps this matter of increasing concern about above-rim lands arises from the same concern motivating the move to start patrolling the river. If so, this is a welcome development for a part of the Grand Canyon that has in the past few years attracted the hopes of Phoenix development types aiming to exploit the area for their private "profits of doom". 

As anyone knows who has gone out in the land west of Route 89 to the Canyon's rim (and beyond), this is an expansive, rewarding landscape, with fine views of the Canyon's beginning and development. Once again, here is an opportunity for cooperation in the protection and presentation of, and visitation to, this introductory stretch of the Grand Canyon.

Map of Little Colorado River Gorge Navajo Tribal Park -- outlined in green. Marble Canyon Tribal Park lies between Route 89 and the Colorado to the north of LCRGNTP.

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