Tribes asked to pray for Peaks

By Kathy Helms, Diné Bureau
Gallup 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 environmental justice.

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 appeal.

“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,” he said.

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.


Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law.