The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:
Re: the April 30 article “Tohono O’odham to receive ancestral land.”
First of all, I would like to clarify that the “movement of returning the ancestral land” to the Tohono O’odham Nation is not a new concept. I recall conversations with Richard Elias, Pima County Supervisor, regarding the return of Sentinel Peak and Tumamoc to the Nation several years prior to his death March 2020.
These conversations with Supervisor Elias serve as a genesis for a presentation to Rio Nuevo during the call to the audience in January 2018, where Josefina Cardenas — former chair of Barrio Kroeger Lane Neighborhood Association — and I advocated for the return of 28 acres that comprise Tucson’s Birthplace at the base of “A” Mountain (AKA the “A” Mountain Landfill) to the San Xavier District of the Tohono O’odham Nation. A meeting took place between Fletcher McCluster, chair of Rio Nuevo, and Chairman Austin Nunez, and was followed by a presentation by McCluster to the District Council. At the conclusion of the presentation the Council voted to receive the land once the landfill had been remediated.
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With the settlement of a lawsuit in 2013 with Rio Nuevo, the City of Tucson took over the ownership of the site known as Tucson Origins Heritage Park that is now in process of being transferred to the Nation. Initially the City planned to protect the land from development by passing in May 2016 City Resolution 22573. The resolution specified that the site would be placed on the National Register of Historic Places and that key stakeholders, including Menlo Park, Barrio Sin Nombre, Kroger Lane, and Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace, would be engaged in any pre-development or development planning. The language related to community engagement is prebatem to the language found in the 2013 Settlement Agreement. However, things remained status quo until January 2021.
This is when key stakeholders representing Menlo Park Neighborhood Association Board, Barrio Sin Nombre, Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace Board (Mission Garden), Tucson Pima County Historic Commission, Rio Nuevo Board and the University of Arizona President’s Office became aware the COT was planning on return the 10.5-acre site known as the TOHP to the Nation. At that time a faculty member of the UA architect and landscaping department was in the process of submitting a grant to the Mellon Foundation for a project on site. The lead faculty for this grant was advised that the City would not endorse this grant proposal as a discussion had already been initiated to return the ancestral site the Nation.
Regarding the Menlo Park Neighborhood Plan, this process was slowed down due to COVID-19. However, the subject of the land transfer to the Nation had been presented by this writer but no formal position has been taken by the Neighborhood Association.
Raul Ramirez is a retired social worker.