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For a fistful of dollars

This week saw the opening of the Skywalk over the Grand Canyon. After forking out $49.95 for a package tour, for a few dollars more, visitors to the Hualapai Reservation in Arizona will be able to step onto a horse-shoe shaped glass walkway jutting 70 feet over the rim of the canyon 4,000 feet above the Colorado River.

sky walk

The ruling council of the Hualapai tribe, driven by greed, allowed Las Vegas developer David Jin to build the $30m monstrosity on sacred land, where their ancestors are buried and where according to their tradition, the origin of human life itself took place. For $25 a head, one of the greatest wonders of the natural world has been turned into another Vegas attraction. Fast food outlets and overpriced motels will skim hundred of thousands of tourists of their money. For years Hualapai leaders dreamt of ways to enrich themselves since their gambling casinos failed, due to their remote location and because of competition from Las Vegas, only a two-hour drive away. In the end, driven by the success of the Grand Canyon national park which receives four million visitors a year, they decided to use the “white man’s idea” of the Skywalk to dramatically increase the quarter of a million people who visit their rim of the gorge every year.

However, despite the Hualapai’s leaders having found their Golden Goose, many tribal members and elders oppose the desecration of their sacred land by a gimmick. Throughout history US rulers and capitalists have used corruption, brute force, coercion and bribery to “divide and rule” impoverished and weak native American communities to gain access to the riches laying in the grounds of their reservations. But now, by a cruel irony, because the Hualapai have full ownership of the land, the controversial project has not been subject to exhaustive environmental analysis, water assessments, access routes, crowd management and waste processing reviews as required within the National Park owned by the federal government.

Even as the Skywalk was being inaugurated by Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, many questions remain unanswered about the future logistics of the site. Despite all the hype environmentalists fear that if the visitors come in their millions the system will become untenable and will bring catastrophic consequences to the site and the tribe. The ruling Hualapai, blinded by the prospect of a quick buck, are oblivious to the fact that by using “the white man’s idea” they are also taking on “the white man’s life out of balance”. In searching for a brighter future for their tribe they should have followed instead the prophecies of their brothers, the Hopi Indians, used as inspiration in Godfrey Reggio cult movie “Koyaanisqatsi”:

“If we dig precious things from the land, we will invite disaster”

Alberto Arzoz
22 March 2007

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