U.S. Department of Justice files for rehearing of SF
Hopi Observer, June 5, 2007
FLAGSTAFF-On Wednesday, May 30 the U.S.
Department of Justice on behalf of the Forest Service
filed for a rehearing and appeal "en banc"
(by the full court) in the case to protect the sacred
San Francisco Peaks in northern Arizona.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals previously
ruled in favor of Native American tribes and environmental
groups on the grounds that a proposed ski area development
and expansion would violate the Religious Freedom Restoration
Act (RFRA) and the National Environmental Policy Act
The Peaks, which are held holy by more
than 13 Native American tribes, have been at the center
of a legal battle that has pitted these tribes and environmental
groups against the U.S. Forest Service and a small private
ski area. The Arizona Snowbowl ski area has been attempting
an expansion and proposed snowmaking with treated sewage
effluent on the sacred mountain. The Forest Service,
which leases the land to Snowbowl, initially approved
the decision, but was then faced with lawsuits by the
Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, Hualapai Tribe, the White
Mountain Apache Tribe, the Yavapai-Apache Tribe, the
Havasupai Tribe, the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological
Diversity and the Flagstaff Activist Network.
"The decision of the Forest Service
and Snowbowl to appeal the ruling is shameful and harmful
to all of the tribes and people of this country who
value religious freedom and a healthy environment,"
said Howard Shanker of the Shanker Law Firm, PLC. "The
9th Circuit [Court] ruling did not grant Native Americans
new rights that restrict other uses of public lands,
it only upheld and protected the rights they already
Carly Long, president of the Flagstaff
Activist Network added, "The Federal Government
does not have a compelling interest to [support] a private
business. As a taxpayer, I am outraged. The Forest Service
has spent a lot of our money in this case and they are
disregarding good case law. All public land users should
Recently, 21 tribes collaboratively
passed a resolution calling on the federal government
not to appeal the 9th Circuit ruling. The resolution
also urged the federal government to repair damage done
to tribal relations due to controversy created by the
proposed ski area development.
A rehearing could bring the case back
before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. An appeal "en
banc" could have the case heard before the entire
9th Circuit. However, there is no guarantee that the
courts will hear this case.
In the 9th Circuit Court briefing, Vincent
Randall, a Yavapai-Apache Councilman said, "[P]eople
wonder why we are upset because [they say] we can still
use part of the mountain... We do not see the mountain
as a pie to divide up into segments. The mountain is
a whole entity, [much] like a pregnant woman or a large
Jeneda Benally, a volunteer with the
Save the Peaks Coalition added, "We always knew
that this would be a long and difficult struggle. The
fight for human rights and religious freedom has always
been a challenge in this country. The Save the Peaks
Coalition is committed to creating healthy relationships
between people in our community and lasting environmental
justice for future generations."
With that in mind, the Save the Peaks
Coalition initiated a "Healthy Communities/Turquoise
Ribbon Campaign" to engage local citizens and the
Flagstaff business community in the call for respect
for the environment, community health and cultural diversity.
A demonstration was held on Monday, June 4, at the Coconino
National Forest Service office in Flagstaff.
The message is clear. "We
must at some point stop trying to fake the world and
realize that our actions as humans have created a world
in peril. The Native cultural perspective that is protected
by this court decision is in fact a road map to once
again creating a world in balance," said Rudy Preston
of the Flagstaff Activist Network.