Undisturbed for thousands of years, the serene, picturesque Anasazi Valley is sheltered by stunning lava cliffs broken into giant cubed stones silently splattered with petroglyphs dating back to 3000 B.C., precariously perched as if tumbling from some mythical Thunderbird’s nest. This secluded enclave neighboring Southern Utah’s breathtaking natural wonders Snow Canyon and Zion National Park was home to ancient Puebloans, and since 450 A.D., Southern Paiute Indians. They consider it part of their sacred ancestral land. Elders still have memories of their grandfathers telling stories of coming here for traditional ceremonies, blessings, and gatherings.
The background story begins in 1985, when Sheila Dean Wilson purchased the 80.1 acre parcel with 25.23 feet of water rights; she soon discovered remains of pit houses, pottery shards, and human burials. In order to keep the site sacred, Wilson founded the non-profit organization Sunhawk Productions, Inc. for the purpose of preserving the spiritual and cultural heritage and creating a Native American Learning Center.
Since then, it has been a favorite local attraction and hosted events like Walk of the Ancient Ones, Easter Sunrise Services, traditional weddings, and Sings for deceased tribal Elders. There is a popular Indian Village featuring an authentic Paiute wikiup, Plains tipis, Iroquois Longhouse, Navajo Hogan, and ceremonial sweat lodge, with future plans to recreate authentic Anasazi-era adobe dwellings based on extensively detailed maps, to fulfill Dean’s vision. It’s all free to the public to visit while enjoying the cool air from the Santa Clara River, encircled by red sandstone landscaping completed as an Eagle Scout project. Before settlers monopolized water resources, Paiutes built well-developed agricultural irrigational systems. Now, they are returning to and honoring their strong, self-sufficient roots as bountiful harvests of the all-volunteer community garden is shared with diverse throngs welcomed at weekly potluck feasts highlighted by drum circles, flute playing, and storytelling — passing on the ways to the next generation.
That mission is being threatened by developer Terry Marten of Kayenta Development who, according to the lawsuit filed by Sunhawk, allegedly conspired with attorney/trustee David L. Watson to defraud the court. It is alleged that Martin never disclosed crucial information to Sunhawk or 5th District Court. Also suspicious is the fact that Watson appointed himself Executor — which Duane Moss, Attorney for Sunhawk, characterized as “unheard of” and a conflict of interest — for which he then entered into a joint venture with Marten which began back in 2005. Watson then transferred the deed to himself and immediately transferred it and the water rights to the non-profit corporation “Chakak’uichi,” — who at the same moment transferred the deed to Marten in 2012. Sunhawk claims Watson breached his fiduciary responsibility in violation of Sheila’s trust agreement.
During the last hearing at 5th District Court in St. George this February 5, acting judge Marvin D. Bagley from Cedar City 6th District Court proposed the question to Moss, “Is this case all about the money or the land? If you win, will Sunhawk later change its mind and build condos on it?”
Moss made clear to the packed courtroom of supporters, “We are fighting to protect the sacred site of Anasazi Valley; of course it is about the land. If Sunhawk feel they cannot for any reason carry on their purpose, it will be turned over to the Shivwits Band of Paiutes, who are the beneficiaries.” It’s interesting to note that Judge Bagley had to be brought in from another district because all five 5th District judges recused themselves due to conflicts of interest involving their associations with Marten, Watson, and their attorneys. Bagley said that he needs more time to review the case and will make a decision on Marten’s motion to dismiss sometime this month (May 2014).
Anasazi Valley is being desecrated. Under the auspices of using it for “storage”, Marten’s crew operates an industrial base camp for commercial construction of luxury housing subdivision projects. Huge trucks haul in an average of 50 semi dumploads of red and blue clay refuse from their excavations, regularly 8 hours a day, over a tiny bridge FEMA replaced across the Santa Clara River after the 2005 flood. The original, larger bridge was built by Wilson. The constant dust, fumes, and noise elicits complaints from trailhead visitors as a junkyard menagerie of concrete, plastic pipes, leaking oil barrels, broken sections of walls, gravel, tires, wires, and unregistered junk cars pollute the pristine desert terrain.
Steve Shaffer, author and archaeologist, was looking forward to examining what appeared to be an ancient rock wall on the property, but scraping bulldozers pushed it aside to make it easier for trucks to unload. He laments, “Sunhawk as well as the Shivwits Band have worked diligently to protect the Valley as a place of peace, where lessons of historical significance can be taught. To lose this wonderful site to those who promote uninhibited growth would be inexcusable and destructive to the buried artifacts!”
Sunhawk Governor Shannon Anderson pleads, “Anasazi Valley has always been a place of tranquility. That peace has been taken away by greed. Our Paiute homelands have always been taken away, and we have grown weak from fighting a battle that has not yet been won; we see it happening all over native territories repeatedly, the destruction of our sacred lands. When will it ever stop?”
This valley is crying out to save it from the damage Marten is doing filling its riverbanks with dirt that does not belong in this irreplaceable area. When the flood came, it changed the course of the river and removed certain things – this is known to indigenous people as a cleansing. It taught us why we must respect everything around us, like the water, which is one of the most powerful weapons on our Mother Earth. The Creator does everything for a reason; it is not for us to put it back the way it was before just to profit. The trucks have been driving here for some time now, and have disturbed the peace that was once here. I cannot come here for healing like I used to. My feet no longer rest in the river to release my burdens because of what I witnessed the last time I did so, when they started filling in the riverbanks. They are covering over the new life that is struggling to live, the willows, cottonwoods, and the little creatures living in the sands. This reminds me of our Paiute People and how we faced the same struggles. Our pleas go unheard because in this world we now live in; money speaks louder than our words. How long must I watch as it cries out? I am but one person and I cannot do it alone. Will you stand with us to win this never-ending fight to protect our sacred lands so that one day our children will walk in this place, never knowing its pain, but instead be filled with healing, cultural teachings and most of all, peace?
This could be the last chance to save this vital project. It would be a tremendous loss to see the dreams and history of a thousand generations bulldozed for the profit of a handful of encroachers who have no legitimate claim on the land. Sunhawk urgently asks for your support.
Let us remember what Chief Seattle said:
“Every part of this soil is sacred in the estimation of my people. Every hillside, every valley…has been made holy by some sad or happy event in days long vanished. Even the rocks…the very dust…is rich with the blood of our ancestors and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch.”
This article was previously published by the Las Vegas Tribune and is reprinted with permission.