Quechan tribal members arrested in protest of new casino 6-13-07

YUMA, Ariz. (AP) - Police arrested five protesters of a new casino on the Fort Yuma-Quechan Reservation, which straddles California and Arizona.

The protesters, who are members of the Quechan tribe, oppose the location of the planned $200 million casino and resort on what they say is a prehistoric ceremonial site on the reservation south of Interstate 8 in Andrade, Calif.

“It is essentially a Mecca, equivalent to what the Statue of Liberty means to this country,” said Priscilla Prettybird, a protester who was arrested with four others by the Quechan Police Department. They were all later released.

The Quechan tribe had ordered the protesters to leave Monday, when they began setting up a ceremonial sweat lodge, a domed hut in which a fire is built to create extreme heat.

Quechan Tribal President Mike Jackson Sr. said the protesters were removed to allow construction workers to continue to prepare the site for a ceremonial groundbreaking planned for Thursday morning.

“We respect their right as tribal members to protest the project and exercise their right to free speech, just not on a construction site,” Jackson said. “We don't want anyone hurt.”

He said the tribe conducted a “comprehensive cultural and archaeological study” of the site and is taking steps to protect artifacts there.