The frame-up of the Akimel O’odham and Maricopa communities of the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) is in full effect. For over thirty years, city and state planners have tried to fund a section of the Loop 202 freeway that would extend from Chandler to Laveen on the south side of South Mountain. They did this knowing full well that the communities in Gila River have opposed the construction of any freeway on or near the reservation. In particular, the residents of District Six, who would be most impacted by a freeway due to their immediate proximity to the proposed Loop 202, have already drafted a resolution against any freeway construction, as did the tribal council back in 2005.
Now GRIC residents and tribal members have to go to the polls on February 7 to show that, for the third time, the tribe wants no freeway. There have been three proposals for the freeway, an alignment through Ahwatukee that would mean for the destruction of some of the western side of South Mountain; a path through GRIC that would place the freeway, the toxic pollution, and the noise near villages; or the “No-Build” alignment which, despite the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT)’s best effort to conceal, is still a viable option. It is still possible that the freeway will never be built.
The belief held by the business, political, and civic leaders is that this growth is good, it’s unstoppable, and everyone can benefit. Pay no mind to the major implications the freeway and accompanying development will have on the air, the land, the wildlife, and the people who live not only in Gila River, but nearby Laveen, Chandler, and Ahwatukee.
With just under one month until the proposed Loop 202 freeway extension goes to a vote in GRIC, the Arizona Republic editorial board has written one of the most unabashed attacks on the residents of GRIC. In an editorial titled “Gila River tribe should vote to allow freeway on its land” the Republic’s board contends that the benefits of the proposed 22 mile, eight lane, 1.9 billion dollar project outweigh any of the perceived drawbacks. If the Republic editorial is a rallying call to the Akimel O’odham residents of GRIC, and the original inhabitants of this land, it is an utter failure. However, if the editorial board is trying to cast the O’odham communities as villains if the freeway is voted down, then they may have succeeded with this slimy piece of pro-freeway propaganda.
In their own words:
“It may seem like a no-brainer for tribal members to approve the freeway on their land. Economic-development projects typically follow freeways, and this one would provide more access to casinos. But tribal members are well aware of the benefits. Their concerns center on increased traffic and air pollution, and loss of more land, especially after the state promised but neglected to build interchanges and frontage roads years ago on Interstate 10, which cut the reservation in half.”
The editorial board moves on to congratulate longtime freeway booster, Phoenix City Councilman Sal Diciccio, for uniting enough of his constituents in his district of Ahwatukee to force the vote in GRIC. Likewise, the Republic applauds Governor Brewer, ADOT, and the Maricopa Association of Governments for their part in pressuring tribal leaders to accept the freeway plan.
So, what I’m hearing the editorial board say is that they acknowledge that people in GRIC don’t want a big stinking, noisy mess in their community, not to mention (since the editorial board conveniently left this out) that the tribe had been told by ADOT that they can only choose between the on reservation alignment, or ensure the destruction of a sacred site by keeping the freeway off the reservation on the Ahwatukee alignment. Neither ADOT, nor the tribal government acknowledged the third option of “No Build” until they received pressure from grassroots groups of Akimel O’odham and Tohono O’odham who are organizing in the GRIC communities against the freeway.
Those organizing in Gila River are joined by a coalition of friends and allies from outside the community who are also concerned about the effects of yet another road or freeway project that will negatively impact the valley’s environment and people. Some of us have been organizing against the freeway for a few months, others for many years now, just as we are facing off against a revolving door of bureaucrats and moneymen who have been pushing for this project for over 30 years.
We are determined to defend South Mountain and to put a stop to any extension of the Loop 202. We want to live free from toxins in the air, the ground, the water, and our bodies. We want these things because of our respect for the Akimel O’odham people, the original inhabitants of the land (before the colonial theft by Spain and subsequent dispossessions by Mexico and the United States), and because we ourselves desire a world where we are free from the bonds of capitalist "progress" and "growth."
These are never concepts that are synonymous with our individual or collective well being, rather it’s the growth for the rich and powerful, it’s the new roads and expressways for their goods to travel faster on. It’s their capital that accumulates at a quicker rate than ever before, progressing leaps and bounds beyond last years projections. These concepts are so in contrast with the balance required for human life in the desert that rooting them on is like cheering for the growth of a tumor, as it progresses to a terminal stage.
Shutting this freeway down is a first step towards the undoing of the damage that has been done to the valley for over a hundred years, it is also a step in the right direction in letting our neighbors in Gila River know that they are not alone in this struggle, nor will they be in their next.