Lori Riddle
Allison Hurtado/AFN

A group of Gila River Indian Community members have filed a federal Title VI Civil Rights Complaint against the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) for proposing and promoting the building of South Mountain Freeway through South Mountain.

The complaint, filed by community members along with the Gila River Alliance for a Clean Environment (GRACE), alleges that ADOT violated the civil rights of Native peoples by proposing a freeway that would “desecrate their sacred South Mountain” and cause negative health impacts to the community.

South Mountain is sacred to the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) and several other tribes in Arizona.

The mountain is central to many traditional stories and contains several sites that are still used by some tribal members for religious ceremonies.

The group claims it has been discriminated against because ADOT knowingly designed the South Mountain Freeway through South Mountain, despite acknowledging its importance to the tribal community; ADOT designed a narrow purpose and need for their Draft Environmental Impact Statement; ADOT failed to analyze the South Mountain Loop 202’s disparate health, environmental, and economic impacts on the tribe and tribal members; and ADOT provided inadequate consultation and informed consent, access, notice, and meaningful participation in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) scoping and planning to the Gila River Indian Community tribal members, according to a statement sent out by the group.

The complaint requests the federal government cease all further funding for the project.

“In addition, the Gila River Alliance for a Clean Environment will be filing international complaints with UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, cultural rights, and freedom of religion,” said Lori Riddle, co-founder of GRACE in a statement.

GRACE was part of a large group that submitted 318 pages of comments on the South Mountain Freeway to ADOT during its open comment period on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

The release of the DEIS is the first step in completing the South Mountain Freeway, a project which has been in the works since 1985.

All comments received during the comment period will be addressed in the Final Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which will then be used to receive a final record of decision from the Federal Highway Administration.

The group plans to use its comments as evidence if they are forced to take ADOT to court to stop the freeway from being built. ADOT has said it believes they’ll be able to start construction as early as 2015.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com.

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