The developer from the Scottsdale-based Confluence Partners LLC had been trying for years to develop the Escalade, a gondola tramway down into the Grand Canyon that would start at the edge of the Navajo Nation at the confluence of the Little Colorado and the Colorado rivers.
This project is affectionately called "the monster" or occasionally "the zombie" in Native communities. As the monster fell symbolically to a 16 to 2 vote defeating it, Whitmer had his own symbolic gesture.
He flipped the Navajo Nation Council the bird.
Like all grand gestures, this one will live on in infamy because Navajo delegate Nate Brown broadcasted it on Facebook Live. (See video at bottom of story.)
The video, posted to the delegate's Facebook and later to a blog post from the grassroots organization Save the Confluence, shows Whitmer not-so-subtly use his middle finger to itch behind his ear.
In a later interview, Brown said, “I did not say anything to him, I did not make a gesture, I did not cuss at him. That was his response in our Navajo Nation Committee.”
Brown said that throughout the discussions about the Escalade he has been careful to only speak to Whitmer in a crowd of people. Brown said Whitmer had never been blatantly disrespectful to him prior to him flipping the bird but he had the sense that Whitmer only viewed him as "some Navajo kid."
"I had a gut instinct that he was not a good person, not someone you want to give 65 million dollars," Brown said.
Whitmer's development plan would have used 420 acres to create a small oasis of tourism including a river walk in the canyon, a food pavilion, a Navajoland Discovery Center, specialty retail stores, restaurants, artist studios, vendor markets, a tourism information center, rim trails, an entertainment lawn, a public safety office, hotels, a gas station, and an RV park.
This caused controversy that gained national attention as Native people accused the developers of attempting to acquire land that was used for sacred rituals with little retribution for the tribes.
Although several Southwestern tribes, including the Hopi, came together to fight this development a noticeable strife was created between community and family members, Brown said. Whitmer and other developers did not seem to fully understand or care about the riff that they were causing, Brown said.
“All he sees are dollar signs," Brown said. "He is consumed with greed. I don’t know if there is any ounce of humanity left in him.”
Whitmer and the Confluence Partners LLC did not respond to Phoenix New Times' request for comment.
Now that the battle is over, Brown said he hopes the community can move past this and work on more pressing issues that plague the Navajo nation including sex trafficking, drugs, and poverty.
As for Whitmer's final gesture, Brown is pretty much over it.
“I’m way too busy to be thinking of him," he said.
Brown may have forgotten about the bird, but more than 15,000 viewers on Facebook surely have not.