Tribe expresses its opposition to event

August 13, 2018

BULLHEAD CITY — The Fort Mojave Indian Tribe staged a protest of the Laughlin River Regatta Saturday with one goal in mind.

“Our ultimate goal is to end it,” said Tribal Chairman Tim Williams. “That there isn’t another regatta in 2019 or after that.”

FMIT has been the most vocal and united critic of the regatta in recent years. Originally on board to promote and sponsor Bullhead City’s annual float down the Colorado River, tribal members changed their stance after seeing what the growing event was doing to the Colorado River.

The river holds cultural and traditional significance to the tribe, Williams said. Pipa Aha Macav, from which “Mojave” is derived, means “the people by the river.”

“We’ve been here since time immemorial,” he said. “I’m

extremely proud of the tribe and our members for coming together and uniting for this effort.”

Tribal members, some in ceremonial dress and others sporting “No Regatta” T-shirts, waved signs at passing traffic and occasionally chanted “Save our water; no more regatta.”

Ed Chemleski, of Golden Shores, was among the non-tribal protesters. He said he wasn’t aware that the regatta was returning until he found a flyer on his car recently.

“They’re trashing the river,” said Chemleski as he waved a sign at traffic. “Somebody’s got to put a stop to it. I just want to see this thing come to an end.”

A number of vehicles honked with many drivers and passengers waving. Not all of them were supporting the tribal members’ protest, some were heading to Davis Camp, the major launch point for Saturday’s regatta, but all were aware of their presence.

Williams acknowledged that the protest had little impact on this year’s regatta and, by itself, may not have any effect on the future of the event.

“We’re preparing for 2019 right now,” he said without disclosing what those preparations were. “There’s going to be even more (anti-regatta activity) in the future.”

The intent of Saturday’s protest was to get regatta organizers, sponsors, supporters and participants to hear the tribe’s collective voice, Williams said.

“Open your mind and your heart,” he said. “We want people to listen.”

Williams hoped that the event would have been stopped before now, he said.

“I wish they would have listened at the Bullhead City Council meeting” in October, when the council agreed to sell its regatta-related intellectual property to Marnell Gaming, LLC.

“I wish they would have listened at the (Mohave County Board of) Supervisors meeting” when the board gave its approval to the event and agreed to rent Davis Camp as a launch point.

“I wish they would have listened at the Coast Guard,” which issued the permit approving the regatta despite the FMIT’s objections.

Williams was unmoved by Marnell’s commitment to keep the river clean, he said.

Marnell took measures to address trash issues and has conducted three river cleanups in the last six months, removing more than three tons of refuse from the river. A trash mitigation plan included crews working on the water, divers at the bottom of the river and workers along the shoreline. Another river cleanup will be held post event.

“If you truly want to say you’re concerned about the river, stop the event, then come down and we’ll talk,” Williams said.

Anthony Marnell III, CEO of Marnell Gaming, said he reached out to the tribe several times with little response.

“I have a lot of respect for (Williams),” he said. “I have a lot of respect for the tribe. We even offered to clean their land, free of charge, during our river cleanups and they turned us down. Where’s Timothy Williams and the tribe when we’re doing the river cleanups? What has the tribe contributed to cleaning up the river? It’s not really the opposition. It’s the hypocrisy of the opposition.”

The tribe conducts open burns on agricultural land in Fort Mohave and Mohave Valley, creating pollution, Marnell said.

“And their agricultural herbicides and pesticides go into the water,” he added.

Williams disputed that claim.

Williams said that the sheer numbers of people on the river during the regatta make it far different far different from other times when the river sees heavy use.

“There’s no other event in this area that allows this many people on the river at one time,” Williams said. “That’s our main objection — that it’s too big. We saw that (in 2016). It’s too easy for it to get out of control.”

The protest was well within the tribe’s right, Marnell said.

He plans to invite the tribe to take part in the next public cleanup, likely to be held in September or October, he said.

Part of the mitigation plan was for an internal cleanup that began Saturday and will continue this week. Details on the public cleanup will be announced later, Marnell said.