Quechans seek victory in lawsuit over damage to cultural sites
The Quechan Tribe feels it has won a victory in its fight to preserve and protect its cultural resources in a case that has been in the courts for years.
Following a favorable court ruling in early January for a portion of the tribe's claims a transmission line project damaged sensitive cultural areas, it's now up to negotiators what the settlement will consist of.
The case arose in 1998 when Western Arizona Power Administration (WAPA), which owns the 161-kV powerline that crosses the reservation north of the All American Canal, undertook a project to replace wood transmission line poles with metal poles.
The original line was built about 70 years ago and connects Imperial County and Yuma County to the electricity grid.
Despite assurances steps would be taken to identify and protect tribal cultural resources, at least 13 sites were impacted or destroyed during the project, according to Mike Jackson Sr., president of the Quechan Nation.
In 2001, the Quechans filed a lawsuit against the United States alleging damage to the tribe's cultural resources within the Fort Yuma Reservation, and seeking a monetary settlement, Jackson said.
On Jan. 10, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California issued its long-awaited order, ruling that the U.S. is liable for damages for destruction of four sites. Liability has yet to be determined on several other sites.
"We're in settlement negotiations," said Randy Wilkerson, spokesman for WAPA. "We're trying to reach a mutually agreeable solution."
Nothing has been decided yet, said Frank R. Jozwiak, the attorney representing the Quechan Tribe in the case. "No dollar value has been settled on yet."
The case really isn't about the monetary damages, Jackson said.
"What the victory means to us is we hold the United States government negligent in its acts toward our people, particularly when those acts destroy a part of a people's culture and history. It is extremely difficult to try to equate monetary damages with destruction of culture and history. But for the court to hold that the United States is liable is a tremendous victory of our tribe."
Jozwiak said the tribe is seeking a monetary settlement to fund a museum, a cultural resource preservation office and other cultural resources in the future.
"It will give them money for tools to better preserve their cultural resources," he said.
Joyce Lobeck can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6853.