Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

December 13, 2012

Gila River Sacrifices Against Loop 202 on Two Day Run and March

Photo by GRIC against Loop 202
Gila River Sacrifices Against Loop 202 on Two Day Run and March
By GRIC against Loop 202
Posted at Censored News
GILA RIVER INDIAN COMMUNITY, Ariz. -- On December 7th and 8th, members of the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) showed their opposition to the proposed 202 freeway by holding the Sacrificing Against the Freeway gathering, a two day spiritual relay run and march. Participants of all ages and communities came to support No Build GRIC advocates by offeringtheir prayers and strength to efforts against the proposed South Mountain Loop 202 freeway. No Build supporters from the Tohono O’odham Nation, Onk Akimel O’odham (Salt River), Dine (Navajo), Pee Posh (Maricopa), Apache, and Hopi tribes also helped run and carry prayers throughout the two days.
Jiivik Siiki, from Hashan Kehk, one of the organizers of the gathering stated, “The primary reason why this action was called was to show everyone that our Himthag, our culture, has a major place in the decision as to whether or not this freeway should be placed on tribal land. It has also been reported that the supporters of the freeway are making statements that ‘our culture is dead’ and we felt the need to show them how strong our teachings are.”
The first daystarted with a 36 mile sunrise run from U’us Kehk (Blackwater) through Hashan Kehk, Gu’u Ki (Sacaton), and Vah-ki, and ended at the southern base of the Estrella Mountains. The second day was a 15 mile sunrise run and march. The march went along the proposed route of the 202 extension in Komadk. Marchers carried banners stating“Pangea Will Never Represent My Land Interest”, “Caution Loop 202 Biohazard”, and “Pangea Is Bad Business for Ahwatukee and Gila River”. The gathering ended near the base of Moahdahk Do’ag (South Mountain), where runners ran staffs to the mountain.
Non-Native supporters were welcomed, and several from the Phoenix area also joined the run and march. Jezz Putnam, member of No South Mountain Freeway, a Phoenix-based 202 opposition group, ran for both days. Putnam said, “O’odham community members running side-by-side with supporters and then walking in step together for the Sunday march marks a true turning point in the fight against the expansion of the loop 202. The gathering exhibited the strength and unity inside of everyone who is willing to work together to defend the future of our communities from the threat of the freeway.”
Throughout the two days, organizers stressed the importance of coming together through culture, and encouraged community members, especially the youth, to mobilize against the freeway.
One of the many reasons I ran was to help strengthen and unite the community to fight for our land, just as our ancestors did. This freeway would be harmful to our families, and also to those who live near the proposed areas off Gila River,” said 18 year old Summer Blackwater of Sacaton. “Pangea and other pro-freeway members must listen to us, and respect our wishes to not build this freeway. We’re not trying to force a road through anyone’s yards and homes. Why must they do exactly that to our community?”
Since 1983, the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) has threatened the health, environmental quality and culture of the Gila River Indian Community by attempting to build the Loop 202 South Mountain freeway extension. For over 25 years, GRIC has continuously voiced its opposition to the Loop 202 extension. In February 2012, the community voted 720 to 603 in favor of a No Build ballot option in a single-issue vote on the 202. Still, ADOT, the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG), and pro-freeway supporters like Pangea, a land development corporation, continue with their plans centered on the construction of the freeway extension. Additionally, ADOT has delayed the release of the environmental impact study (EIS) for this proposed construction for over 25 years.
Currently, Pangea is seeking a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) from GRIC tribal council which grants Pangea and their investors exclusive rights to develop over 5500 acres of tribal land on the reservation’s western end along the route of the proposed Loop 202 freeway. Gila River landowners have been targeted by the Pangea corporation with‘good-faith’ payments of $50 for their consent signatures and have been bribed to attend tribal government meetings with $500 raffle prizes. The cash payments and raffle prizes are used by Pangea in addition to a misinformation campaign that downplays the negative health impacts of the freeway, and which makes no mention of the destruction of traditional cultural properties that are in the path of the freeway and the Pangea City Concept.
Despite Pangea’s misleading campaign that the freeway can’t be stopped, ADOT still lists “No Build” as an option. In a statement the day following the February 2012 No Build victory, MAG Chair Hugh Hallman conceded that “this vote is a significant milestone in the process and allows us to focus our efforts now exclusively on the Pecos Road alignment. The no-build option is also an alternative.”
Organizers of the Sacrificing Against the Freeway sought to inform community members and Gila River tribal leaders that No Build is an option and to remind them of their duty to protect O’odham land.
It was a powerful thing to see O’odham, Pee Posh and other supporters come together to send prayers and connect our lives back to the land we belong to. It gives much needed strength to our struggle to defend against encroaching freeways and other developments,” said Wesley Miles of Co-op village. “Many thanks and prayers to all who helped and supported, no matter how far.”
No Build GRIC advocates were thankful for the show of support, and encouraged No Build supporters from both GRIC and the Phoenix area to attend upcoming MAG public meetings in January 2013.
Community members expressed their hopes for more gatherings like Sacrificing Against the Freeway. Siiki encouraged the need to address the harmful cultural impacts of the proposed freeway, as well as the environmental impacts.
Siiki concluded, “This run and march was specifically for us to show our Himthag is important in protecting and keeping our lands. There was no hidden agenda. This activity was all volunteer and relied upon individuals and families to support it. We did not need to charter vehicles or ask anyone to sign papers, people just showed up and carried prayers across our lands willingly. People need to know the true reasons why this land must remain in our possession as a community, and our new friends will help spread that to the rest of the world.”
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