“I don’t think the people that are here really care what happens to the land because they can move out, you know? They can leave once it’s destroyed but for people who’ve always been here, where are we going to go?”
Speaking on the Oro Cruz gold mining project, Quechan elder Preston Arrow Weed expressed deep concern for the future of the Quechan Tribe’s sacred lands and the health of the surrounding regions like Yuma County and Imperial Valley.
Because the Oro Cruz Gold Mine is projected to begin digging and mining on Quechan sacred land, members of the tribe are protesting the project and hoping to stop the damage they foresee. Tribe members state that the project will result in open pits which will destroy “archaeological sites, contaminate water and contribute to the destruction of vital ecosystems.”
Arrow Weed added that the process of separating gold from sand involves cyanide, which affects aquifers and groundwater.
“... It comes south, it’ll go to our casino, it’ll go to Felicity, it’ll go to Yuma if it goes to the river,” he said. “I don’t know if Yuma’s ever learned the things that they do but that’s the thing that’s going to happen so we’re trying to stop that.”
Arrow Weed shared experiences from 25 years ago when the Quechan, Mojave peoples and environmental groups worked together.
“They were gonna bury nuclear waste by the Ward Valley near Needles, right over an aquifer that goes to the river,” he said. “And one good rain and that radiation would have gone into the Colorado River. Now, they were gonna do that and we stopped that. Can you imagine what would have happened? What would have happened to Yuma and the water that goes through west? A lot of people (could’ve been) hurt, probably die.”
Time and time again, they’ve fought to stop environmental harm and succeeded in their cause and now, the challenge has presented again.
“They’re persistent,” Arrow Weed said. “And the thing is that it seems to always go near tribal lands … I think if they went to the big wider area of public lands, somebody would object, you know? It wouldn’t be Native American but that’s what they’re doing. But it’s really dangerous what they’re doing and they won’t listen.
“I think even the President of the United States is going with lithium for the electric cars’ batteries. See, all of that’s happening. They never think of the consequence, what’s going to happen afterwards.”
In Preston Arrow Weed’s view, the project is one that not only destroys nature and harms life, but one that tramples over the Quechan Tribe’s beliefs and ancient cultural ties to the land.
“It is a complete disregard for our tribal beliefs most of all and the history of our areas that they don’t care about,” he said. “... They bought up the claims and that’s how they do their gold mining … when you’re looking at those claims, they’re only about 200 years old or a little bit more, but our claims are longer than that. We have artifacts out there. You know, the remains, the artifacts, everything’s out there, showing that we were there first. To me, that is our claim but they pay no attention to it.
“... So they’re destroying our beliefs, they’re destroying our way of life, the way we think. And I don’t think I do these things to stop progress; I’m trying to stop them from destroying what’s out there, which is the ecology and everything out here, you know? It’s true. Our people, your people, people who live in this area but they (those mining) don’t care.”
Arrow Weed stated that the Quechan people have lived in the region since before the Ice Age. Once upon a time, they were people traveling swiftly on foot and the trails in the land prove it.
“What happened a long time ago, our people used to run,” he said. “Messengers to deliver messages to run all over the place – all the way to San Diego, Los Angeles, even San Francisco probably. There’s trails out there too where they ran so we have, like I said, evidence that we were here long ago.
“At the time, they didn’t have horses so they had to run; no pony express!”
In the spirit of that tradition, the tribe is doing a Kwanamii Spirit Run to take a message to the mountains and come back in protest of the gold mining project. This run will take place Saturday, March 18, with registration starting at 8 a.m. and the run beginning at 8:30 a.m. All ages and folks are welcome to join and should plan for about 22 miles of interval running. To participate, meet at the Quechan Community Center, located at 604 Picacho Rd in Winterhaven, Calif.
For those unable to join in the run, there will also be a “Our Land is Sacred: Stop Oro Cruz Mining Project” gathering at the Quechan Community Center on the same day at 3 p.m. Arizona time. This event will feature traditional ribbon dress with gourd and tin can singing along with traditional dinner stew and tortillas and crafts and food booths. The event is admission free.
Both events are supported by Ah Mut Pi Pah Foundation, Xunapuk, Xuumar Akuuts and Kwatsaan Iiya. To partake in the later gathering from afar, tune in through radio on KUAV FM 105.1.
For more information about the spirit run, contact 928-210-0114.