Tribes asked to pray for Peaks
By Kathy Helms, Diné
Independent, DECEMBER 1, 2007
WINDOW ROCK — Navajo Nation President
Joe Shirley Jr. and Council Speaker Lawrence Morgan
are calling upon all tribes which hold the San Francisco
Peaks sacred to join in prayer Dec. 11, when the issue
of desecrating the peaks goes before the U.S. Court
of Appeals for review.
Morgan has called for a National and
International Day of Prayer at 3 p.m. Dec. 11.
In a landmark decision in March, the
9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a January 2006
ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Paul G. Rosenblatt,
stating that the use of recycled sewage water to make
artificial snow at the Arizona Snowbowl, located on
the San Francisco Peaks, violates the religious freedom
of 13 Southwest tribes.
The plaintiffs-appellants successfully
argued that using treated sewage water to make artificial
snow at the ski resort would pollute the mountain, significantly
burden Southwest tribal members’ ability to practice
their religions, and violate the public’s rights for
Judge Fletcher agreed, stating that
the U.S. Forest Service’s approval of Snowbowl’s use
of recycled sewage effluent on the peaks violates the
Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and that the Final
Environmental Impact Statement does not comply with
the National Environmental Policy Act.
Howard Shanker of The Shanker Law Firm
in Flagstaff will represent the Navajo Nation in the
“The Navajo people are trying to do
everything we can to save self, and the peaks are one
of our strengths. It is our essence,” Shirley said Friday.
“When you decide to contaminate it with
reclaimed waste water, with filth, to make snow, that
doesn’t help my way of life. That doesn’t help when
I talk to my children and grandchildren about the importance
of our way of life, and the pride that is to be taken
because of our way of life. To Native people, there
are no compromises to saving self.
“When our ceremonies go, and when our
herbs go, there are no compromises left to be made,”
the president said.
The U.S. Court of Appeals will review
the case Dec. 11 in Pasadena, Calif., “meaning that
they are being allowed to continue to challenge our
religious freedom, our environmental justice, and our
cultural survival as the First Americans,” according
to Klee Benally of Save the Peaks Coalition in Flagstaff.
The coalition is planning a caravan
to Pasadena to support the efforts to protect the peaks
and will host a “Vigil for Justice” at Heritage Square
in downtown Flagstaff beginning at 4 p.m. the day of
the court hearing.
Morgan said it is very unfortunate that
the case is being reconsidered.
“We will continue to stand strong and
unified to protect our religious and cultural convictions
to protect our sacred mountain of the west.
“We will continue to practice what has
sustained our ancestors from the past, despite the many
challenges that we face. We have been able to continue
to remain here as a people, because of the spiritual
prayers of our ancestors. Our prayers will assist us
in this new challenge that is forthcoming on Dec. 11,”
Because many Navajos would be unable
to travel such a distance, Morgan encouraged them to
remember to pray for the mountain’s continued protection.
“We must stand side-by-side, like the
ponderosa pines on Doko’oosliid, in prayer to let others
know that it is our right to advocate for the protection
of our sacred sites. The Navajo Nation needs your support.
We must continue to stand in solidarity to address our
sacred sites,” Morgan said.
“Our prayers will be heard as we unite
in our continued efforts to protect our Mother Earth.”
The San Francisco Peaks, a unique
mountain ecosystem managed as public lands in northern
Arizona, are held holy by more than 13 indigenous nations.