The Hualapai council members say the unfinished site is an embarrassment to the tribe, which approved the project despite some internal objections about building on land roughly 30 miles from a place central to the Hualapai creation story. Traditional tribal belief places man’s origin on Hualapai lands.
“I believe the canyon is a sacred place. The Hualapai look at is as a church. Why take trash and throw it in the church. I voted against it,” said Philip Bravo, a former council member. “What does the tribe have out there? A half-finished building.”
Angry at the developer, the tribe passed an ordinance last year creating a legal path to effectively cancel the developer’s contract through the sovereign right of eminent domain.
The tribe set compensation for the seizure at $11.4 million, a sum they said represents the fair value of a project that the Las Vegas-based developer says is worth over $100 million.
“They took everything. And then the tribal court issued an order that we were trespassers if we were even there. You do understand this is like Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, don’t you?” said Troy Eid, a lawyer for the Grand Canyon Skywalk Development Corporation, which built the skywalk.
There is little doubt that tribes can legally seize property for the public good, much like a state or the federal government. But by seizing a non-tangible asset of a non-Indian company as a way to escape a contentious business deal, the tribe may have stepped into untested waters.
“I think on first glance the tribe is exercising a power that they have. Whether they are exercising it wisely is a different question,” said Addie Rolnick, an expert in Indian law at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.