Burial grounds may block freeway
Ancient artifacts raise Gila River concerns
The Arizona Republic
Aug. 1, 2005 12:50 PM
and burial grounds are in the broad Gila River valley that runs south of
Ahwatuke Foothills, which served for eons as a major passageway and home for
prehistoric and modern Native Americans.
And for that reason, the Gila River Indian Community has been reluctant to offer
it up as a site for the proposed South Mountain Freeway, said Mary Thomas, the
community's lieutenant governor and former governor.
Thomas said it's still possible that the freeway would be allowed but said:
"It's not so simple. There is a lot to consider. We are still, as they say,
mulling it over."
Arizona Department of Transportation is considering a route along Pecos Road for
the proposed South Mountain because it has been unable so far to get the Gila
River community to even consider putting the freeway on the reservation.
Discussions have been going on for many years.
The proposed freeway would connect with Interstate 10 just south of Ahwatukee
Foothills, run west along the southern border of South Mountain and then swing
north to connect with Interstate 10 in west Phoenix. Exact routes are still
subject to discussion and study.
Thomas said the Gila River valley, as well as South Mountain and all the other
mountains in the area, have deep historical and cultural significance for the
resident Pima and Maricopa Indians, as well as other tribes that migrated along
the once flowing river.
At a meeting of the South Mountain Citizens Advisory Team on Thursday, Steve
Thomas, environmental programs manager at the local office of the Federal
Highway Administration, said he has sent out surveys to 25 tribes, including all
23 tribes in Arizona, asking them if the area has any historical significance to
them. He is still waiting for responses.
Under modern laws, the federal government is required to mitigate a freeway's
impacts on any historical or cultural buildings or places near it. But Mary
Thomas said, "You can't mitigate spiritual grounds."
Recently, ADOT officials briefed the Gila River Indian Community Council on
plans for the South Mountain Freeway and the widening of Interstate 10.
Freeways are still a sore point for some residents. When I-10 was built on the
reservation in the mid-1950s, there was no mitigation or environmental
considerations, said Nathaniel Percharo, a Gila River resident and one of many
owners of reservation allotments. "Nothing was paid," he said.