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Archaeologists join opposition of new Yuma casino

Yuma, Arizona (AP) 10-07

Archaeologists who surveyed an Indian casino site call it a significant cultural and religious site that would be destroyed if construction goes forward.

The Quechan Indian Tribe’s $200 million casino and resort project outside Yuma has been criticized by some tribal members for the same reason. But building recently resumed after a majority of the tribe voted to continue work and not seek a new site.

The archaeologists with the Imperial Valley College Desert Museum Society near El Centro have now petitioned the Quechan Tribal Council to stop construction, writing that, “To destroy this site runs counter to Quechan tribal policy of protecting the cultural past of its tribal lands.”

Two archaeologists who surveyed the building site west of Yuma said they found numerous cultural artifacts.

Jay von Werlhof, one of the archaeologists who wrote to the tribe, said the building zone contains one of the most important sacred Indian sites he has studied in his 52-year career. von Werlhof also stressed that the historic site is located within the construction zone, despite tribal leaders’ arguments otherwise.

“The only way they can build that casino there is to completely destroy that sacred site,” he said. “This site is too precious not to be preserved.”

A call for comment from the Quechan Indian Tribe’s president, Mike Jackson, was not returned, but he has said in the past that the tribe conducted a “comprehensive cultural and archaeological study” of the site and is taking steps to protect artifacts there.

Von Werlhof worked with the Quechan for five years in the tribe’s battle to protect Indian Pass from a gold mine project. He has written two books that include the Quechan Tribe and its history and has taught at the University of California and San Diego State University.

The archaeologist surveyed the casino building site in October and says he found a major, ancient tool-making site, as well as a campsite and a large piece of pottery. He said all those findings were within the construction zone.

The piece of pottery measured about a foot square and caused quite a storm of excitement among the surveyors.

“It was the largest ceramic piece I’ve seen in a long time,” von Werlhof said.
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