Quechan elders ask creator to forgive tribe for controversial casino 7-07

YUMA, Ariz. (AP) - Elders of the Quechan tribe in southwestern
Arizona and California sang songs and prayed to their creator to
forgive the tribe for trying to build a casino on land they believe
is sacred.

The $200 million casino and resort is proposed to be built south of
Interstate 8 in Andrade, Calif. on the Fort Yuma-Quechan Reservation.

While leadership within the tribe supports the casino and says the
endeavor will boost the economy, some members of the tribe strongly
oppose the idea. Five such members were arrested last month after
they protested the casino by setting up a ceremonial sweat lodge, a
domed sauna-like hut in which a fire is built to create extreme heat.

On Saturday, tribal elders conducted ceremonies near the casino site
to heal the land and appeal to their creator.

Elder Vernon Smith pointed to Pilot Knob Mountain, where he said
crews have removed soil.

"We were told the mountain would not be harmed," he said. "They
cut into our very heart, our very soul. They have separated the bond
that's there and the healing needs to start."

He and two other elders, Preston Arrow-Weed and Milton Jefferson Sr.,
said building the casino on sacred land offends their creator and
ancestral spirits.

"We're not trying to stop the casino," Arrow-Weed said. "This is
just not the right place."

The three elders said they represent a growing number of Quechan
elders who are getting weary of tribal leaders who don't seek their
knowledge of culture and history when making major decisions.

Tribe President Mike Jackson did not return phone calls for comment,
but previously said the tribe conducted a "comprehensive cultural
and archaeological study" of the casino site and is taking steps to
protect artifacts there.