Tribe doesn't dig it

  The remains of an ancient village on the San Xavier District of the Tohono O'odham Reservation in Arizona are going to stay buried. After spending almost $1 million on plans and studies, the tribe's council has decided not to build a casino on the ruins (HCN, 9/1/97).

The decision came after officials from the Sells District, one of 11 on the reservation, reminded the council that the tribe's constitution calls for protecting archaeological resources, not building over them. Archaeologists have found 500-year-old Hohokam artifacts, including bones, ashes and pots, on the proposed 54-acre construction site, called Punta de Agua. The tribal gaming authority, the force behind the development, had wanted to do what developers have done in the seven years since Congress passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act: rebury the artifacts and human remains elsewhere.

Despite the council's decision, San Xavier landowners, who hoped to lease the site to the gaming authority, aren't giving up. They've asked the council to reconsider its decision or amend the tribe's land-use plan.

Austin Nuûez, who heads the San Xavier District, says the area in dispute isn't sacred ground. "The site happens to be on top of an ancient village which contains human remains," he says, "but it's not a burial ground. The entire reservation is on top of archaeological sites."

Alex Richey, spokesman for the tribe, says the tribe's change of heart sets a bad precedent for future development on the reservation. "If a district can interrupt development of this kind," he says, "it may put a damper on development throughout the reservation."