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Snowmaking OK'd at Snowbowl resort

Please note new articles about the appeal at the US 9th District Court of Appeals.
Save the Peaks video.
Tribal reps at hearing. Court to decide fate of sacred peaks
Indians say Arizona ski resort desecrates mountains
Indians argue expanding Arizona ski resort sullies their religion
Indians aim to block upgrades at Ariz. ski resort
Tribal reps at hearing Court to decide fate of sacred peaks
Navajo attorney has 8 minutes to argue for peaks protection
Arizona Snowbowl Under Siege In Federal Court

[Please see Navajo Medicinemen's Association holds ceremony to protect Sacred Peaks .]

[Please see Battle over Sacred Mountain Enters Next Phase.]

[Please see Legal Battle to Protect Arizona Sacred Site Coming to SF - Support Needed!]

San Francisco Peaks

San Francisco Peaks

Picture used with permission from Many thanks.

Please visit Save the Peaks for more updated information as well as what you can do in support.


"Prayers don't stop"
Group gathers to pray, discuss the sacred peaks
By Cindy Yurth
Special to the Navajo Times

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. | November 22, 2006

There are those who would say the fate of Dook'o'oosl’’d is in the hands of three federal judges in San Francisco.

Klee Benally prefers to think it's in the hands of the Creator.
The Diné musician and activist, whose family helped found the Save the Peaks Coalition, was among about a dozen people gathered at the foot of the Navajos' western sacred mountain Sunday afternoon to await 11 horseback riders and 14 runners.

The two groups, coming from the north and south, respectively, were to converge on the spot and offer prayers prior to a forum on sacred landscapes at Northern Arizona University.

The riders, who had taken two days to cover the rocky 35 miles from Grey Mountain, Ariz., arrived about 5 p.m. They were two-and-a-half hours later than expected after pausing for a sweat bath Sunday afternoon.

The runners, coming from Prescott, Ariz., finally emerged from Sycamore Canyon at 8 p.m., having missed not only the prayers but the forum.

No matter, said ultra-marathoner Thomas Arnold of Prescott, the only person to complete the entire 130-mile distance.

"The whole point of this was to suffer, as some kind of offering to the mountain and also the indigenous cultures who are trying to protect it," he said in a telephone interview Monday. "I received all the suffering I could handle."

Arnold explained the group had underestimated the ruggedness of the canyon. Having started from Prescott at 4 a.m., they intended to run all night and meet the riders at the base of Mount Humphreys Sunday afternoon.

Instead, they ended up spending Saturday night huddled around a campfire "catnapping" and rationing their limited food and water.

By daylight, they found the canyon offered "more canyoneering than running," Arnold said wryly. All the more reason to respect sacred landscapes, he added.
"It was a very spiritual experience for me," he said. "I've been running these kinds of things for years. It was pretty humbling not to make it."

Arnold said he was feeling fine other than a swollen knee.

Prayers don't stop

Six Native American tribes, two individuals and three environmental groups combined forces this spring to appeal a Jan. 11 U.S. District Court decision to allow expansion of the Snowbowl ski area below Mount Humphreys, highest of the San Francisco Peaks, as they're known to the non-Native population.

The expansion would include the use of treated wastewater to make snow for the ski slopes during droughty years.

The plaintiffs contend both the expansion and the use of treated wastewater on the mountain violate the tribes' tradition of protecting the peaks as sacred space, to be used only as a site of ceremonies and to gather medicinal plants.

The peaks are considered holy by 13 of Arizona's 27 federally recognized tribes.
The Snowbowl operates under a lease from the U.S. Forest Service, which manages the Coconino National Forest and the Kachina Peaks Wilderness Area that border the resort.

After conducting an environmental assessment, the Forest Service had decided to allow the expansion.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in the case Sept. 14 and has not yet issued a ruling. But Benally said Dook'o'oosl’’d's advocates aren't "just sitting around waiting for a court ruling."

"Our prayers don't stop when the court stops," he declared.

They're not just praying either, added Rudy Preston of the Flagstaff Activist Network, a member group of the Save the Peaks Coalition and a plaintiff in the appeal.

"There's a lot, actually, that can be done while we're awaiting the ruling," Preston said. "The Forest Service is just one facet of the campaign."

For instance, he said, the coalition is lobbying the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality to raise their purity standards for water that can be used in snowmaking.

They've also approached the city of Flagstaff to cancel its agreement with the resort to purchase the city's treated wastewater.

"Without the wastewater, they can't make the snow," reasoned Preston.
The plaintiffs have argued their case on public health grounds as well, noting that children could eat snow made from treated wastewater and get sick, as it is not pure enough to drink.

A spiritual event

But for most of the people gathered on Dook'o'oosl’’d Sunday, the issue is spiritual.
"It's cultural genocide," said Kelvin Long of Educating Communities while Healing and Offering Support (ECHOES). "If the plants that are contaminated by wastewater can no longer be used, that ends a way of life. It's the most devastating thing they could do to us."

Jones Benally, Klee's father and a medicine man with the Winslow, Ariz., hospital, confirmed that he would no longer pick medicinal plants from the mountain if the wastewater proposal goes through.

And that would be a loss, he said, not just for the Navajo.

"Everybody gets sick the same," he said. "These plants heal everybody. I can heal diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer with the plants you find on this mountain."

But John R. Murray, general manager of the Snowbowl, said Monday he thinks the wastewater issue is a smokescreen being used by the tribes to get the public's support.

"If our proposal included potable water, we would have the same opposition from the tribes as well as opposition from others because potable water supplies are even more delicate and sensitive in Arizona," he wrote in an e-mail to the Times.
"The tribes in court testimony said they would oppose any source of water," he said. "The reclaimed water gives them something more to talk about and try to scare others with their concern."

He added that he found it "ironic" that two plaintiffs, the White Mountain Apache and the Yavapai Apache, use reclaimed wastewater in their own businesses - Sunrise Ski Area, where it is used for snowmaking, and Cliff Castle Casino, where it irrigates the grounds.

Preston admitted that, while Sunday's events were more prayer than protest, the groups are indeed trying to catch the public eye.

"Every time we do one of these things there's been one or two people show up who say, 'My God! I didn't even know about this,'" he said. "Every time we do an event like this we reach a certain segment of the public."

A hike up the Mount Humphreys trail, which starts about 50 feet from where the activists had gathered in a circle to pray, confirmed that there are still many Arizonans unfamiliar with the issue.

Of 11 hikers stopped on the trail by the Times, five had heard about the Snowbowl controversy and six knew they were treading on sacred ground.

"I wish there was some way we could have our recreation and the Indians could still have their sacred mountain," mused an NAU student hiking the trail with her friend. "But I just don't see it."

Originally found in the Navajo Times, 22 November 2006.

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Ski resort's snow plan criticized
Bao Ong
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 26, 2005 12:00 AM

About 50 concerned citizens gathered at Arizona State University on Friday to oppose Arizona Snowbowl ski resort's plan to make artificial snow from wastewater atop the San Francisco Peaks.

"There's a deep disregard for our respect for the land," said Klee Benally, a member of the Navajo Nation who presented a 56-minute documentary about the peaks. "This land is sacred to many."

If the resort has its way, wastewater from Flagstaff would be used to make artificial snow it claims is safe.

Opponents say the plan, approved by the U.S. Forest Service this month, is disrespectful to their land and could harm the environment.

The Navajo Nation and at least 12 other Arizona tribes believe the peaks are inhabited by deities and often perform religious ceremonies in their honor. They also gather herbs on the mountains to make medicine.

Arizona Snowbowl officials did not return calls seeking comment Friday.

April 25 is the deadline to file an appeal with the U.S. Forest Service.

State Rep. Krysten Sinema, a Democrat, opposes the plan and said she hopes to bring a voice to the Native American community on this issue.

Kevin Scott, a member of the Council Advocating an Indigenous Manifesto at ASU, said he opposes Snowbowl's plans for his 2-year-old daughter Dorian's sake.

"The mountain is the backbone of our culture and religion," said Scott, who saw the documentary last fall. "If we let this happen, she's going to lose a part of her identity. "

Originally found in the Arizona Republic, 26 March 2005.

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Forest Supervisor’s ski area decision a letdown to tribes

FLAGSTAFF — Nora Rasure, Coconino National Forest Supervisor, recognized that in selecting Alternative 2, she would be upsetting Native Americans of 13 tribes that hold the peaks sacred.

She was not wrong.

Only two and a half hours following the March 8 press conference call initiated by Rasure’s announcement of her selection, members of the Save the Peaks Coalition, the Sierra Club and the Navajo and Hopi Tribe, not to mention several other environmental, religious and cultural rights groups, gathered at City Hall to stage a press conference and demonstration against the decision.

Surrounded by a cloak of supporters holding signs, Roxanne George of the Save the Peaks Coalition initiated the press conference.

“We didn’t get the news we wanted today, but this is far from over,” she said.

“Shame on the Forest Service,” thundered Andy Bessler, who represented the Sierra Club. “We would have expected a decision like this in a time of racial inequity—in a time when we didn’t respect people’s differences—but not in an age when cultural diversity is valued. It’s a sad day for our society that we have to correct the Forest Service again and again. The Peaks deserve more than a bad snowmaking plan.”

It is ironic, Bessler explained, that Rasure’s decision came just at a time when the federal government was beginning to understand the dangers of pharmaceuticals in reclaimed water and referred to NAU data showing that tadpoles raised in Flagstaff’s reclaimed water had begun to “feminize.”

Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, director of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office declared that March 8, 2005, would forever be a day of infamy for the Coconino National Forest in its decision to allow artificial snow on “ Nuvatukyaovi” (the San Francisco Peaks).

“This decision by Supervisor Rasure is not just a breach in the Forest Service’s trust responsibility to the Hopi Tribe, but a breach of the Hopi people’s trust in the Coconino National Forest,” Kuwanwisiwma read from a prepared statement.

Kuwanwisiwma introduced two other members of the Hopi Tribe.

One, Wilton Kooyahoema, from the village of Hotevilla, said that he had worked on the Snowbowl project for a number of years.

“We were doing real good, but now they have brought this up again. The Hopi Tribe will never allow snow made from reclaimed water. Our spiritual ancestors will not allow it,” Kooyahoema said. “There is a Spirit Being living up there. We have seen it and have heard it.”

Another, Lawrence Keevama, the head priest of the Katsina Society of the Hopi Tribe, introduced himself, humbly saying, “I’m not a speechmaker. I’ve been reading about these peaks, and I believed that this issue was settled once and for all. I am against artificial snowmaking. There are living things up there,” he continued, gesturing over his shoulder towards the peaks. “It’s going to hurt them—it’s going to kill them. I enjoy a natural snow. I say, let’s cut this out once and for all.”

Money, Keevama said, just comes and goes, and that spirituality has a long-lasting value.

“When I pray, my prayers are not just for the Hopi people. My prayers are always for all of you, all colors,” he concluded.

In a press release issued by the Hopi Tribe, Wayne Taylor shared these sentiments.

“Once again the federal government has made a decision that is clearly in opposition to the passionate pleas of Native American nations who hold the peaks as sacred,” Taylor wrote. “The Hopi Tribe is united in our stance [opposing snowmaking] and will continue to reiterate our profound disagreement with the proposed action. We believe that we are also entitled to the fundamental freedoms guaranteed all citizens by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which we believe should be honored by all parties.”

Kelvin Long, director of ECHOES (Educating Communities While Healing and Offering Environmental Support), also condemned Rasure’s decision.

“What Nora Rasure is doing is creating division between Indian and non-Indian people. We have always had an understanding of who we are,” Long said.

He continued to describe that this state of being was interrupted by cultural invasion began centuries ago, by Spanish, Mexican and Anglos.

“Nora Rasure is continuing a cycle that they brought, creating polices and laws taking our culture,”

Long said. “I ask those who ski not to go up there. Boycott the Snowbowl.”

Long went on to recognize that this region is now home to many cultures, and that there is a need for healthy relationship as a community.

“It’s all our home now. We have to learn to share, to live together. This decision is stopping health relationships,” Long concluded.

Cora Maxx, who serves as assistant staff to Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, stepped forward to represent that tribal leader. Shirley, she said, was unable to attend because of prior commitments made as he had been led to believe that Rasure’s decision would be rendered at the end of March. Instead, Maxx explained, Rasure informed the president of her decision earlier in the week.

“The president is very disappointed,” Maxx said. “The Navajo Nation has not changed its position fromprevious times. The Navajo Nation holds and cherishes [the peaks] as a sacred place.”

When a member of the press reminded Maxx of a statement she had made last year, suggesting that the Navajo Nation might consider a boycott of Flagstaff in response to approval of artificial snowmaking, Maxx acknowledged that statement.

“I initially made that suggestion as a private citizen,” she said. “ Individuals are looking at many alternatives in the works. Grassroots individuals are expressing a sentiment that a boycott effort may begin.”

Long stepped back to the microphone on behalf of several medicine people who were listening from the audience.

“They have told me that this decision is affecting a lot of young warriors in Iraq,” he said. “There have been prayers and offerings made that they may come home safely. This is another reason [against the approval of Alternative 2] to add to the list.”

Just before leading Native Americans of several tribes in the AIM song, Benally stepped forward holding the Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision aloft.

Benally was outraged that with only 45 days to appeal the decision, the Forest Service was sending the document out on CD ROM discs to a population largely without computers. Benally also pointed out that there isn’t a translation of the document available to assist non-English speakers.

“I still believe that the citizens of Flagstaff value respect more than money,” Benally declared.

The following afternoon, Jeneda Benally sat curled in a chair in front of her computer. Her brother, Klee, had been up most of the night posting information on websites and sending and answering e-mail to numerous supporters and news agencies, according to Benally. Her mother, Berta, walked through the house—clearly the middle of a war zone. The dining room table was buried under a flurry of press releases from many of the outraged tribes and from activist and environmental groups. Several copies of the Arizona Daily Sun, featuring Klee, open-mouthed at the drum, are also scattered across the table within easy reach of any who might care to read a copy. Berta openly expressed her disappointment and anger at the decision.

Jeneda had yet to read the article. Her exhaustion was clear as she prepared to ready herself for a meeting of the coalition later that evening.

The atmosphere was punctuated as the phone continuously rang. The callers were members of the press from across the nation, tribal representatives and supporters seeking more information, expressing their own disappointment.

Her mother, spent, straightened the house. Watching her mother move back and forth past the dining room, Jeneda wrapped her arms tightly around her shoulders, twisting in a stretch. A petite woman, the pose brings out bone and muscle—and a quiet defiance.

“I’ve never truly felt like a warrior before,” she said softly—this despite her role in fighting relocation, her position in the band, Blackfire, and her every day activism for indigenous rights and environmental issues.

“Nora Rasure has made me a warrior.”

Originally posted in the Navajo-Hopi Observer

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[Note:  Wonder what was taken to offset any health problems before this "sip" from the wine glass.]

Flagstaff plant imitates Mother Nature
By Jason Begay
Navajo Times

FLAGSTAFF - With its domes, tanks and pipes spanning the grounds, the Rio de Flag Water Reclamation Facility doesn't look like it but it's designed to replicate the purification system of a natural body of water.

In fact, administrators of the city of Flagstaff facility say the water comes out from the plant cleaner than any water found in surrounding rivers, streams and lakes.

Rio de Flag will provide the water in a controversial plan to expand the Arizona Snowbowl ski area on the San Francisco Peaks, which are considered a sacred site to many regional tribes, including the Navajo Nation.

Under the plan, approved by the U.S. Forest Service earlier this month, the resort will use reclaimed water to make snow for the slopes during dry winters.

However, the idea of using reclaimed wastewater that has been cleansed of raw sewage pollutants has concerned tribal leaders and environmentalists and perplexed academics. City administrators say the water is a clean alternative to reducing the water usage of Flagstaff.

"We try to imitate what nature does," said Paul Raczkowski, Flagstaff's water services senior project manager. "Instead of using 20 or 30 miles of river and what takes nature three to four weeks, we can do it in a day."

Nature has its own system to filter impurities from water with ponds, bacteria and earthen filters before the precious mineral finds its way to reservoirs or other drinking water sources.

Specifically, Raczkowski said, the water filtration process at the Rio de Flag facility harkens back to the days before sewage treatment plants when human waste was thrown into nearby rivers and streams. The facility tries to recreate the system that naturally separates waste from water.

Separate the sewage

Water comes into the reclamation facility as raw sewage that, if not for the aluminum domes covering the million gallon tanks, could cause a powerful stench in the surrounding area in west Flagstaff.

The concoction stewing like a heavily soiled pond inside the tanks looks green and mossy. The tanks give off relatively little smell.

The sewage sits in the tank, as polluted water would in a pond, for up to six hours, giving the water a chance to separate into layers. Heavier matter sinks to the bottom while oils and grease float to the top.

This same process occurs in stagnant ponds, Raczkowski said.

"Actually, about 99.5 percent of that is water," Raczkowski said, opening a panel into the large dome. "Only half a percent of all that is sewage."

Rio de Flag treats about two million gallons of sewage a day. The city of Flagstaff produces about six million gallons daily. A second facility treats the remainder of the city's sewage, although it does not purify the water as thoroughly as the Rio de Flag plant.

A bug stew

In a river, there are millions of microscopic organisms and bacteria that feed on the pollutants in the water. These "bugs" handle most of the purification in any body of water.

"We have the same thing here," Raczkowski said. "It's the same thing you'd find in a river, except here we have a lot more."

What Rio de Flag Water Reclamation Facility has is a thick "bug stew' consisting of dozens of different types of organisms, mostly bacteria. The beneficial microbes digest the harmful ones

"This biological stew does about 99 percent of cleaning the water up," Raczkowski said.

The water is then sent to another set of dome-shaped tanks where it sits as the bug stew separates itself and is filtered out. The water in these tanks is significantly clearer, resembling the water from a pond, and smells like a musty basement.

The water at this stage is considered Class B and is not suitable for drinking or cooking for humans, though it can be used for livestock and some irrigation.

The second, larger sewage treatment plant in Flagstaff produces Class B water.

Raczkowski likens this stage in the process to river water that eventually fills drinking wells.

"After going through the ground and into the well, it's going to be pretty clean," he said.

In an effort to replicate that natural ground water filtering system, the water is directed into the facility's main building where it is filtered through two feet of coal, then two feet of sand.

In its final stage, the water flows freely through a thin corridor equipped with ultraviolet lights. Much as sunlight disinfects river and ocean water, the ultraviolet lights kill bacteria that could be harmful to humans.

A wine glass

At this point, the water flows clear. Some of it is directed into a sampling machine that collects the water for testing. Raczkowski collected a sample in a small wine glass.

"I have a wife and two kids, and this is what I think of this water," Raczkowski said as he lifted the glass and sipped the water. "That ís the best guarantee I can give this water."

Class A water meets drinking water standards, but despite his display of allegiance, Raczkowski said the facility does not allow people to drink its finished water.

Mostly, he said, this is because state regulations require that only the best quality water be used for drinking purposes. That type of water is filtered through a treatment plant that adds chemicals to purify it even further, Raczkowski said.

During the winter, most of the water that comes out of Rio de Flag Water Reclamation Facility is released into the Rio de Flag wash which runs through Flagstaff and eventually finds its way into the Colorado River. It is likely that much of the water is filtered into wells and reservoirs along its route.

Originally posted in the Navajo Times

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Uncertainties linger about wasterwater use

By Jason Begay
Navajo Times

FLAGSTAFF - The plan to use recycled wastewater - although purified through an extensive treatment system - on the San Francisco Peaks is a complex issue.

Tribal leaders maintain that the mountain cluster is a sacred site and have attacked the use of reclaimed wastewater on religious principle.

However, officials at the city of Flagstaff and the Arizona Snowbowl say the water is cleaner than many natural sources.

Hydrologists and scientists who have found foreign chemicals in the water say they don't yet know the affects reclaimed water will have on the mountain and its environment.

"I honestly don't think we know what the impact of using wastewater on the peaks is going to be," said Dr. Catherine Propper, a professor of biological science at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.

Propper's comment goes to the heart of environmentalists' concerns that introducing the treated sewage effluent could damage the peaks' fragile ecosystem.

Peter Raczkowski, senior project manager, city of Flagstaff water services and who manages the Rio de Flag Water Reclamation Facility, admits, "We can't do it better than nature."

However, he said the system is an effective way to conserve the region's scarce water resources.

Using the reclaimed water for irrigation saves the city up to 1.5 million gallons a day during the summer. Water from the facility is used for irrigation at Northern Arizona University, the Catholic Cemetery, Flagstaff Medical Center and at public schools and parks.

The Arizona Snowbowl would be one of the few facilities using the water in the winter.

State laws limit the use of reclaimed water to 1.5 million gallons a day by any entity. J.R. Murray, Snowbowl general manager, said the resort would rarely have to use that much.

In fact, since the resort opened on Thanksgiving, Murray said enough snow has fallen this winter that the resort would not have had to use reclaimed water to make any snow this season.

Murray said the plan to use artificial snowmaking methods is meant to keep the Snowbowl resort open with a steady snow supply during Arizona's unpredictable winters.

Because of weather restrictions, the resort has seen as many as 181,000 visitors in a season and as few as 2,800 in another.

The resort needs between 18 and 24 inches of snow all winter to maintain the slopes for skiers and snowboarders.

However, both Raczkowski and Murray admit that the reclaimed water will contain chlorine, a powerful disinfectant. State law requires that reclaimed water used in public places must be lightly chlorinated. This is to ensure that the finished product is clean and free of impurities.

Raczkowski said the levels of chlorine are minimal enough that it will likely evaporate when the water is frozen and blown into the air as snow.

Still, there may be more impurities lurking in the reclaimed water. And when it comes to putting treated water into an ecosystem, "impurities" is a relative term.

Propper said a 2003 U.S. Geological Survey study found that there are chemicals in reclaimed water from industrial compounds and pharmaceuticals. These chemicals have been shown in previous research to affect the endocrine function - the system that travels in the bloodstream to the body's major organs - in aquatic vertebrates.

Propper, who is in the final stages of her own Flagstaff-based study, said studies in Germany and other parts of the U.S. have shown similar results.

However, Propper noted that every wastewater plant puts out different sets of chemicals. Chemical levels are also affected by natural causes including weather and rainfall.

The chemicals in reclaimed water likely come from medicines that are ingested by humans and eventually make their way into sewage systems.

Other chemicals are caused by industrial byproducts and the everyday household cleaners and detergents drained and flushed out of homes across the country.

"A lot of things that go on between when the water is released from Rio de Flag, it's going to be frozen and thawed and exposed to UV light," Propper said. "That can change the chemical makeup for better or worse.

"It's a very complicated environmental question, we don't know the answer yet," Propper said.

Bob Hart, USGS supervisor hydrologist in Flagstaff, said his agency tested water samples from three sites within city limits, including reclaimed water discharged from the Rio de Flag facility. The other sites included the city's Wild Cat water treatment facility, and the Fox Glenn well, part of the city's municipal water supply system.

The geological survey tested for three types of chemicals: human and veterinary antibiotics, human drugs and industrial and household waste products.

"We found hits of several chemicals or concentrations of a lot of these chemicals in the water at all three sites," Hart said. "These compounds in general are showing up in a lot of different places across the country, so we weren't real surprised."

The concentrations were very low, measuring in micrograms per liter, or parts per billion. The USGS report listed more than 50 different chemicals, including a flame retardant, musk fragrances, insect repellant and herbicides.

Hart said he did not know the effects reclaimed water would have on an environment like the San Francisco Peaks. He said more testing is needed. He would not comment on whether he has concerns on using the water prior to such tests.

"I guess that's one of the questions that has to be answered," Hart said. "Thereís a lot of work yet to be done."

Originally posted in the Navajo Times

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Snowbowl construction delayed

With five days to go until construction on new trails and snowmaking facilities could have started at Arizona Snowbowl, the Forest Service, ski business and environmental groups compromised on not logging or building anything until at least October.

The environmental groups agreed to speed up their lawsuit in return for Snowbowl and the Forest Service delaying construction while the case is in court.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul Rosenblatt persuaded the parties to make the agreement after daylong arguments over whether Rosenblatt should grant an injunction.

" We are pleased the court has agreed to schedule this trial in October," Snowbowl General Manager J.R. Murray said in a statement. "We look forward to getting this litigation behind us."

The Snowbowl has long struggled with short ski seasons because of lack of snow and unpredictable weather. If it is allowed to make snow starting next winter, it would mean steadier business.

Six tribes, two individuals, two environmental groups and the Flagstaff Activist Network are suing the Forest Service for its decision to allow Snowbowl to make snow with reclaimed wastewater, saying it violates the sanctity of the mountains and might be unhealthy.

" We still have to talk about the merits of our case and part of it is the need to continue to recognize all those things that the Forest Service didn't do," Sierra Club environmental justice coordinator Robert Tohe said.

Tohe and the lawyer for his side, Howard Shanker, have argued the Forest Service didn't properly consult every tribe before making its decision and that the decision is illegal because it violates religious freedoms.

Aside from making snow, the Snowbowl would replace some ski lifts with faster ones and realign others. The new Sunset Lift would reach much farther up Mount Agassiz, a new lift would be built on the side of Mount Humphreys and two other lifts would be moved, leaving trails in their place. About 76 acres of spruce-fir forest would be removed and 48 acres would be thinned under the upgrade plan now being litigated.

About 250 acres would be bulldozed during construction and 400 parking spaces would be added.

Manmade snow made from reclaimed wastewater piped from Flagstaff would cover up to 205 acres

Reporter Cyndy Cole can be reached at 913-8607 or

Originally posted in the Arizona Daily Sun

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Snowbowl case begins today

By CYNDY C Sun Staff Reporter

The future of Arizona Snowbowl, local skiing and Southwestern tribes' religious rights hangs in the balance in a Prescott courtroom.

If the Forest Service and Snowbowl win, it'll mean steady skiing, sledding and snowboarding seasons, increased annual revenue for outfitters and the tourism industry and the use of reclaimed wastewater to make snow on the San Francisco Peaks.

Snowbowl would become first ski area in the world to make snow wholly with reclaimed water, general partner Eric Borowsky stated in court documents.

If tribal, environmental and activist groups win, it'll be a major victory for Native American religious freedoms pertaining to sacred sites and for the Navajo Nation in a decadeslong battle.

A victory for the tribes would also likely spell the end of commercial skiing near Flagstaff because Snowbowl has found it tough to make a profit with years of inconsistent snowfall, its business manager, J.R. Murray, has said in the past.

The case so far has been a testy exchange of legal documents, with Snowbowl lawyers stating the environmentalists and tribes "... seek the imposition of a religious servitude on the entire 74,000 acres of the San Francisco Peaks based solely on the subjective views" of religious people and the tribes countering that the Forest Service tried to dupe them into believing their comments didn't carry any weight in the decision.

This may not be a quick case, if history is any indication.

The last major Snowbowl lawsuit and appeals, ending in 1983, spanned five years.

Both sides, along with a battalion of 15 lawyers, will be in U.S. District Court today for a preliminary court hearing on motions for summary judgment. Each side will tell the judge their argument is such a clear victory that he should rule in their favor on the spot, without need for a longer trial.

If Judge Paul Rosenblatt decides important legal or factual questions have yet to be answered, particularly questions of Native American's religious freedoms, a trial will begin Wednesday in Prescott.

The Save the Peaks Coalition is planning a prayer vigil today outside the courthouse in Prescott.

The Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, Sierra Club, Flagstaff Activists Network and others argue in court documents that the Coconino National Forest's attempts to consult with the tribes were inadequate, despite 205 phone calls and 41 meetings, and that the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act.

Their lawsuit also contends the Forest Service: Did not adequately consider whether non-biological agents, like pharmaceuticals, could be contained in the snow and potentially impact children who might eat it Failed to take into account ways water diversions from the Rio de Flag for making snow might impact Flagstaff's aquifer Didn't really consider plans that would keep the ski area relying on natural snowfall Perhaps most importantly, they say, the Forest Service didn't adequately consider tribes' religious and spiritual concerns of "irreversible" harm to the mountains

The Forest Service and Snowbowl counter by stating: Water to be used for making snow meets all state and federal guidelines for that purpose, though the snow isn't intended for eating Religious beliefs and practices, while impacted, would not be destroyed or prohibited because of snowmaking or improvements at Snowbowl National forest policy says the forest must be open to various uses, including winter sports

Cyndy Cole can be reached at or at 913-8607.

Originally posted in the Arizona Daily Sun

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Tribes criticize Forest Service during hearing on snowmaking

Mark Shaffer
Republic Flagstaff Bureau
Oct. 7, 2005 12:00 AM

PRESCOTT - Attorneys for northern Arizona's tribes said Thursday that the U.S. Forest Service never seriously analyzed Native American objections to snowmaking from reclaimed wastewater at Arizona Snowbowl and preordained approval of it in June.

The comments came during the first day of a hearing seeking summary judgment against Coconino National Forest and to reopen an environmental study of the effects of reclaimed wastewater on the San Francisco Peaks.

U. S. District Judge Paul Rosenblatt will likely rule on the summary-judgment motion today after the hearing is concluded. If the motion is dismissed, a full hearing, which will determine the fate of snowmaking and other ski-area improvements, will be held next Wednesday.

Lawsuits filed by six tribes and three conservation groups were combined into one by Rosenblatt after the Forest Service approved Snowbowl's plans.

"There was no good-faith effort in dealing with the tribes," said Howard Shanker, a Valley attorney representing six of the plaintiffs.

Shanker said the decision failed to take into consideration such things as water recharge in the Flagstaff area, children eating the snow while at the ski area and the desecration of a religious shrine central to many creation stories of the state's tribes.

But Janice Schneider, an assistant U.S. attorney representing the Forest Service, said that if the decision went against the Snowbowl, the area would be forced to close given the recent drought in the Southwest.

"It would also represent the imperatives of religious servitude over an entire community," Schneider said.

Rachel Dougan, another assistant U.S. attorney, said the Forest Service's study went into painstaking detail with "pages after pages" explaining tribal perspectives about the peaks.

The Forest Service's decision concluded that interest in skiing and the economic benefits to Flagstaff outweighed Native American religious concerns.

If Rosenblatt sides with Snowbowl, 15 miles of pipeline will be laid from central Flagstaff to the ski area, and snowmaking is expected to be in place by the start of the 2006-07 season.

But much of the attention on this day was on what effects there would be from treated wastewater, which lawyers say will have high quantities of medical and other undesirable waste. But the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality has certified the water to be used for snowmaking purposes.

Originally published in the Arizona Republic

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Snowbowl development case to hinge on religious rights

Sun Staff Reporter

The federal judge hearing the case over improvements at Arizona Snowbowl raised several concerns about both the quality of the water to be used and the tribes' assertions that the Forest Service only consulted them as an afterthought.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul Rosenblatt is unlikely to decide the case without a trial that would begin Wednesday, he said.

The prime contention, however, will be whether the Forest Service and federal government would be breaking the law in allowing snowmaking with reclaimed wastewater on the San Francisco Peaks despite tribal claims that it would harm or destroy their religions.

"We're in a very close environment," Rosenblatt said Thursday in Prescott. "We're in an environment where everyone knows the religious significance of these mountains to the plaintiffs and to all people."

Snowbowl and Department of Justice lawyers argued that the Forest Service had done its part in recognizing harm to the tribes' beliefs, as is required under federal environmental law, but that it wasn't bound to manage its entire forest specifically to comply with their religions.

"There were many, many other places on the Peaks on which tribal members were free to engage in their religion," Snowbowl attorney Janice Schneider told the judge, referring to the 1979 case the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe lost.

The holding in that case essentially said that as long as religious practices could happen in a variety of sites, not just Snowbowl, it was acceptable to develop a bit of land for a ski area.


Rosenblatt challenged the Forest Service and feds, following the tribal lawyers' assertions that putting reclaimed water on a portion of the land that amounts to 1 percent of the Peaks is tantamount to poisoning the whole area.

"Surely you're not suggesting the plaintiffs use another mountain," he asked.

The lawyers for the Hopi, Havasupai, Navajo and Hualapai tribes, as well as the Sierra Club and others, will charge in the next week that federal religious law has since been strengthened and should be applied here. It means, Howard Shanker argues, tribes no longer have to prove the piece of land being impacted is the only site central to their religions to win the case.

In other words, if the whole mountain is sacred, the U.S. government must pass a series of strict legal tests before it can act against anyone's religious beliefs.

If the tribes and environmentalists win, it could be a landmark decision for Native Americans and tribal religious sites nationwide, Snowbowl and the Department of Justice lawyers argued.


Issues of reclaimed wastewater and its cleanliness were argued but have yet to be decided. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality has approved reclaimed water for use in making snow.

But that does not make the water or snow made from it safe or intended for drinking or eating by children, lawyers for both sides said.

Shanker, who is representing the Navajo Nation and other plaintiffs, said it would be hard to stop a child from eating snow, regardless of what it's made from, and that the Forest Service didn't adequately consider that possibility.

The judge seemed to agree.

"We all were taught not to eat the yellow stuff, but not it's not going to be yellow and not distinguishable" from natural snow, Rosenblatt said.

Rosenblatt questioned both sides but appeared to push Forest Service and Snowbowl lawyers harder on questions of religion and water quality.

Lawyers for the Navajo Nation, Sierra Club, Hopi Tribe, Havasupai Tribe and other plaintiffs charged that Coconino National Forest Supervisor Nora Rasure didn't consider two options she should have: closing down Snowbowl or allowing the tribes to join together and buy it to operate or shut down.

The Navajo Nation has expressed interest in shutting down the ski area, and fought its construction in 1979. The Havasupai also have talked about joining a consortium to buy out Snowbowl. The Hopi Tribe has not been a party to these discussions, Chairman Wayne Taylor Jr. said Thursday.


Outside the courthouse, 65 protesters gathered, waving signs and shouting at cars through a bullhorn as the courthouse security watched out the window for what they said was a rare event.

The protesters held a giant white banner shaped like a pair of men's underwear and began to shout at Bruce Babbitt, the former Arizona governor and interior secretary.

Tribal environmental activists once gave Babbitt a pair of stonewashed jeans, the same type that used to be made with the pumice from White Vulcan Mine in the San Francisco Peaks, as a sort of token for helping them close the mine.

Babbitt made a speech that year about how he realized the mountains were sacred to tribes.

So on Thursday, Save the Peaks, environmentalists and other protesters chanted, "Give back the pants" to Babbitt as he walked to lunch.

They also shouted at the Forest Service's Rasure and Snowbowl General Manager J.R. Murray. Murray toasted his opponents from the courthouse window with a cup of water and smiled.

Back in the courthouse, the lawyer for the Havasupai Tribe, Alysia LaCounte, suggested her clients would have reason to sue under the Clean Water Act if reclaimed wastewater from Snowbowl ran into their drainage.

Every community along the Colorado, including Mexico, would need to have been notified of Snowbowl's snowmaking plans under her argument, she acknowledged.

Cyndy Cole can be reached at or at 913-8607.

Originally posted in the Arizona Daily Sun

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Will Peaks become religious monument?

By Cyndy Cole
Sun Staff Reporter

Two years ago, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore was fired for refusing to remove a 20-ton monument of the Ten Commandments from a courthouse

The debate over Moore's religious marker provided a lightning rod for believers and non-believers alike, with daily tears, demonstrations and prayers. And while Moore's position as a judge was unique, the constitutional questions it raised about religious rights in public spaces were not.

Now Native American tribes of the Southwest have their own version of the Ten Commandments case, but the monument in this case is earthen and a mountain high.

Several mountains, actually.

Activists and Native American tribes across the country are watching the lawsuit over snowmaking on the San Francisco Peaks to see whether the tribes' religious rights trump the Forest Service's ability to allow Snowbowl to make snow there with reclaimed wastewater.

If the tribes' religious rights trump the Forest Service's ability to determine land use, that would potentially give more than 550 tribes across the U.S. the right to tell federal agencies how to manage the Grand Canyon, Rainbow Bridge, Bill Williams Mountain, Mount Rushmore and thousands of other sites deemed sacred, Snowbowl argued in legal briefs.

"Millions of acres of federal land across the country are at stake here," Snowbowl attorney Janice Schneider told U.S. District Court Judge Paul Rosenblatt on Thursday.

Tribal lawyers argued that the people of the Forest Service couldn't really understand the magnitude of how it would harm the tribes if snowmaking were allowed.

For the Hualapai, the Peaks are the site of their creation story, their Garden of Eden.

For the Hopis, attorney A. Scott Canty argued, knowledge of the mountains and the kachinas that live there are one of the few traditions common among every member of the tribe older than age 8.

"The mountain is part of Hopi land, even though it's 86 miles or so from the villages," Canty told the court.

For the Navajos who gather medicinal plants on the Peaks, the whole area would essentially be poisoned if what they deemed wastewater were spread on it, even with snowmaking on as little as 1 percent of the mountains.

Those Navajos' ability to relate to others in their tribe would be impacted forever.

The non-profit Native American Rights Fund, of Colorado, is watching this case.

"Almost all the sacred sites that tribes have, almost all of them are on federal land," Rights Fund officer Ray Ramirez said. "These issues are very, very important in Indian Country... spirituality is one of the only things we have left and slowly that's being chipped away by occurrences like this."

The National Congress of American Indians is tracking it, too, as is a California advocacy group for Native Americans.


The Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe lost the battle against the ski area's development in a court case that ended in 1983. The federal courts found that a rudimentary ski area already existed and that tribes' religious rights weren't "substantially burdened" by development because Native Americans could practice their religious beliefs elsewhere on the Peaks.

As long as the site now known as Snowbowl wasn't the only place Native Americans could practice their beliefs, the tribes would lose. And they did.

This week's case is identical to that one, and the tribes should lose again on the same basis, Snowbowl's Schneider argued.

Anything else would be equal to allowing religious beliefs to control the public's use of entire mountains of public property, she said.

Or, in other words, allowing the tribes' religion to determine Forest Service policy makes the San Francisco Peaks into a religious monument.

The federal government can neither establish religion, nor prohibit religious practices under the First Amendment.

But Congress has passed other laws respecting religious beliefs since then, attorneys for the other side argue. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act can be interpreted to mean Native Americans only have to prove that snowmaking on Snowbowl would impact their religion to have a chance of winning the case.

"It is clear this (snowmaking) places a substantial burden on the way plaintiffs practice their religious beliefs," said Howard Shanker, who is representing the Navajo Nation, Sierra Club and some of the other plaintiffs.

Even if there is no one particular shrine or monument inside Snowbowl's area that's vital to Native American beliefs, the whole mountain still could be considered a religious site under the act.

This is the first time the religious rights law has been applied to tribal sacred sites.

University of California in Los Angeles Law Professor Eugene Volokh specializes in religion and government law.

Given only the arguments about religion, and not including other arguments in the case, he predicted Snowbowl stands a better chance of victory.

"If their only objection is this is blasphemous (and) you are using your property in ways that undermine the sacredness," Volokh said, "... that is an argument that will likely lose."

Cyndy Cole can be reached at or at 913-8607.

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Shirley: Navajo religious freedom at stake

Sun Staff Reporter

Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. took the stand Wednesday in the trial over the fate of Arizona Snowbowl and proposed snowmaking there.

He compared allowing snow made with reclaimed wastewater and spread on the San Francisco Peaks to a child watching his or her mother being raped.

It is ironic, he said outside the courtroom, that U.S. troops are fighting for others' religious freedoms abroad while his are under attack at home.

"It should be a given that our way of life should be protected," Shirley said.

He sang parts of two prayer songs for federal Judge Paul G. Rosenblatt and a full court gallery.

It's the first time in recent memory that a local elected official has been called to testify about his constituents' spiritual or religious beliefs.

More than 150 protesters from across the Southwest gathered in Prescott on Wednesday for the latest chapter in a court case likely to run through at least next week. The prosecution had yet to finish calling all of its witnesses as of mid-Wednesday.

Shirley's office had asked people to attend, sending a bus from Window Rock.

University professors, medicine men, veterans, elders, motorcycle riders, and council representatives from Tucson, Tsaile, Chinle and farther were some of the visitors overflowing the courtroom.

Rosenblatt said on the first day of the trial that the Peaks are well known as important to regional tribes, so that point is not up for dispute. The case hinges on whether religious rights give the tribes standing to tell the Forest Service what should or shouldn't happen on Forest Service land, which the tribes don't own.

Cpl. Jayson Charles, a Marine from Gallup, stood outside the courthouse holding a flag, wearing fatigues.

"These sacred sites, the San Francisco Peaks, that's what you think about every day when you're out there," he said of his tours of duty. "That's what I thought about at least, a sense of home."

The Peaks are one of the bases for songs, instructions and learning in the tribe, said Navajo Nation Councilman Willie Grayeyes, who represents Navajo Mountain and Inscription House areas.

With further changes there, it won't be sacred, he said, and won't be a basis for instruction as it has been for history.

"The Forest Service is going to be dictating 'you have to change your prayer. You have to change your ceremonial songs,'" Grayeyes said.

Although Shirley cannot speak for every Navajo when it comes to their spiritual beliefs and Dook'o'sliid, the Peaks, he does speak for most, two Dine College professors said.

History and Culture instructor and medicine man Avery Denny brought 15 students from Tsaile to watch the trial, expecting that this is only another step in a case that could again see the doorstep of the U.S. Supreme Court.

"I believe this is not going to end here," he said. "It's going to keep on to another time."

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Originally posted in the Arizona Daily Sun


Shirley quotes Blessing Way song in Peaks case

By Noel Lyn Smith
Special to the Times

PRESCOTT, Ariz. – President Joe Shirley Jr. asked a U.S. District Court Wednesday to turn back a federal decision allowing more development on the San Francisco Peaks.

Throughout Shirley’s testimony, he reiterated the importance of the Peaks to Navajo religion, singing the opening phrases of a Blessing Way song to emphasize his point.

“These mountains are part of one another,” he sang. “They see each other, they talk to each other.”

For Navajos, the mountains help them navigate the challenges and situations of life, Shirley said.

The Navajo Nation and six other Arizona tribes are suing the U.S. Forest Service and the Arizona Snowbowl, a 777-acre ski area on the western slope of Mount Agassiz.

Snowbowl owners obtained permission from the Coconino National Forest to carry out expansion plans, including the use of reclaimed wastewater to make artificial snow.

Forest Supervisor Nora Rasure approved the Snowbowl expansion March 8 despite intense opposition from the tribes and environmental groups.

Rasure based the decision on her finding that the expansion affects only a small part of the peaks and therefore would not prevent or interfere with Native religious practices. She concluded that the plan would not harm the environment.

Rasure’s decision was upheld June 9 by Southwestern Regional Forester Harv Forsgren, sparking the lawsuit being heard this week in Prescott.

For Shirley, moving forward with the project would be “raping” the mountain, which he said already bears scars from the ski resort.

He compared the relationship between Navajos and the mountain formation as that of children and their mother.

“It is a desecration of my mother,” he said.

As they have with previous witnesses, attorneys for the Arizona Snowbowl and the U.S. Forest Service tried through questioning to show that officials acted in good faith and tried to communicate with the Indian tribes before reaching a decision.

Rachel Dougan, attorney for the U.S. Forest Service, asked Shirley about meetings between the forest service and the chapters closest to the Peaks. Shirley said he was not aware of meetings.

Nor did Shirley attend the forest service’s public meetings, held during the Western Navajo Agency Council and the Western Navajo Fair in 2002.

Dougan also asked Shirley if he would approve of artificial snowmaking using fresh water. Snowbowl operators say they need to make artificial snow because natural snowfall is too variable for the ski area to make a consistent profit.

The proposed use of treated wastewater has been particularly provocative to both Native spiritual leaders and environmentalists, but Shirley said he also would not support artificial snowmaking using fresh water.

During an afternoon press conference outside the courthouse, Council Speaker Lawrence T. Morgan and Vice President Frank Dayish Jr. joined Shirley.

The three leaders voiced their concerns about the trial and reinforced the Navajo Nation’s firm stance against the forest service decision.

The hearing attracted a large turnout from citizens, mostly supporting the tribes’ position. Shirley said it was a way to let the world know the Navajo Nation’s continued objection to the issue.

It is hard for Native Americans to voice their opposition and to explain their religious practices within the court setting, Shirley said.

He decried the obtuseness of federal officials who claim to respect Native religious beliefs, but compromise in favor of profit-making schemes.

Shirley also commented on the irony of fighting for freedom half a world away, while not protecting it here.

“It’s very unfortunate that we’re even talking about protecting our sacred peaks in this free country of ours, the United States of America,” Shirley said. “We go to war to try to protect other religions, other ways of life, why isn’t our way of life here protected? Why is it being desecrated? That is what I would like to know. That story needs to be told.”

His statement generated applause from the audience outside the courthouse.

Wednesday was the fifth day of the hearing, which is expected to continue today.

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Originally posted in the Navajo Times


Protecting the peaks
Hataali association steps into public role to sacred mountain

By Jason Begay
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK - If the San Francisco Peaks are damaged or marred in any way as a result of expanding the Arizona Snowbowl ski area, then the Navajo Nation or its people could never be the same again, said the president of the association of medicine men and women.

Anthony Lee Sr., president of the Diné Hataali Association, said he planned to attend a court hearing last week on the Navajo Nation’s lawsuit to stop the expansion. He and other association members traveled to Prescott, Ariz., where the suit is being heard.

They have also performed Protection Way ceremonies for the mountain site, he said.

As Lee explained it, the peaks intertwine throughout Navajo beliefs about what holds the cosmos together. They help anchor the directions, draw the rain, support the sacred house of the Navajo.

It is the responsibility of people like himself to protect their sanctity with songs, prayers, and, at this point, public activism.

Lee said the expansion plan, if executed, “is going to impose a significant burden on our ceremonies, our prayers and our songs. It’s a serious violation of our human rights.”

Lee said his vocal opposition to the expansion plan is an effort to uphold the mission statement of the hataali association: To preserve and protect Navajo culture.

It is also part of the evolving role of the modern day medicine man and woman, as well as the association, which is seeing members take a broader responsibility to lend their voice to such subjects, Lee said.

Reclaimed wastewater

Several tribes and groups, including the Navajo and Hopi tribes and the Sierra Club, have filed lawsuits against the Snowbowl and the U.S. Forest Service to halt the expansion plan.

Nora Rasure, forest supervisor, gave the plan a go-ahead in June. The most contentious aspect of the plan is the use of reclaimed wastewater to make snow during dry winters.

The Snowbowl, which operates on 777 acres of national forest land, needs to provide consist snowpack in order to assure stable revenue flows. Ski area clientele now fluctuates between 2,000 and 60,000 visitors annually, depending on the amount of snowfall, operators have said.

Lee, who has been practicing traditional medicine for about 15 years, said the Snowbowl, which opened in 1938, should never have been allowed.

“It shouldn’t have happened in the first place,” Lee said. “Anytime you allow for development, especially on a sacred mountain like the San Francisco Peaks, I think what happens is that you just increase the chances for other developments to occur.

“It’s like putting more salt on an open wound, so to speak,” Lee said.

Of the Navajo Nation’s six sacred mountains, the peaks are one of four main formations that represent one of the four directions, Lee said.

As have spiritual leaders in other Arizona tribes, Lee takes particular offense at the use of reclaimed wastewater on the mountain.

Manmade vs. natural

“There’s a difference between manmade water and the natural water cycle,” Lee said. “We prefer the natural rainfall, natural snowfall.”

The Navajo have a term for different forms of naturally collected water. For instance, the condensation of different forms of water is considered male while dewdrops are considered female, Lee said.

These natural characteristics would be all but lost with water that was gathered and treated in manmade tanks, he said.

“We have no problems with the natural rainfalls, snowfalls and precipitation,” he said. “When it comes to processed water, then we have problems.”

Although the water that would be used in the Snowbowl plan is clean enough to meeting federal drinking water standards, a U.S. Geological Survey report found traces of more than 50 different chemicals including pharmaceuticals and household cleansers in the water. Federal drinking water standards cover a limited range of contaminants.

Also, state law requires all reclaimed water to be lightly chlorinated, though some hydrologists said traces of chlorine could evaporate when the water is frozen and sprayed into the air.

In all, geologists and hydrologists said they do not know what, if any, effect the reclaimed water would have on the mountain.

Still, Lee is concerned.

The contaminants found in the water essentially render it unusable in the Navajo way, he said. He cited the chances of some of the chemicals including runoff from mortuaries or ashes from cremated bodies.

“That’s not natural,” he said. “That’s associated with something called ‘Hochoxji,’ the Big Ghost Way, or the Big Evil Way. That contaminates all life.”

Traditionally, the Navajo consider the six sacred mountains to represent the six beams that hold up a male hogan, Lee said. Using this analogy, he pointed out that any damage to the structure would affect the rest of the home.

“Each mountain represents a season, a part of the day, the elements, traditional food sources and the hogan structure,” Lee said. “It’s going to have a tremendous impact on your life. It’s like taking apart one beam of a hogan – if one element is missing, there is going to be a serious imbalance.”

Difficult issues

The Diné Hataali Association met during a special trip to Blanca Peak near Alamosa, Colo., the easternmost of the four sacred peaks. There, several medicine people gave offerings in an effort to maintain and sustain Navajo culture and integrity, Lee said.

“It’s just the intensity of the difficult issues we’re facing,” Lee said, explaining the trip. “We’re doing everything within our power to restore harmony and balance. “We want to protect our ceremonies, sacred songs and prayers.

“We have to, we can’t afford to just let these powerful influences take advantage,” Lee said.

Taking a more public role

Lee said his vocal opposition in the Snowbowl issue is a result of the growing and evolving duties of the modern Navajo hataali, or medicine person.

“We need to prepare ourselves to address these difficult, complex issues,” Lee said. “When we were ordained as medicine people, our mentors never said that later on, for the future, you’re going to be addressing difficult issues.”

Medicine people are historically meant to treat sicknesses and impurities, Lee said. However, with more and more cultural issues becoming political like the San Francisco Peaks, or gay marriage and the death penalty, medicine people “need to prepare ourselves in such a way that we can articulate with our community,” Lee said.

The Diné Hataali Association is led by a board of 12 members representing each of the Navajo Nation’s five regions. In all, the association includes more than 300 members who practice traditional medicine.

The number is a significant decrease from the mid-1900s, Lee said. As a result of the dwindling number of practitioners, many traditional Navajo ceremonies are on the brink of extinction.

For instance, the Coyote Ceremony, as well as the Moth, Dog and Eagle ceremonies, was once used to cleanse and purify a person’s mind to cure certain diseases. Today, Lee said, the association does not know anyone who can perform these ceremonies.

“We need to identify these people,” he said. “Somehow, we need to get young people to relearn these ceremonies that are almost extinct.”

Lee said the association is compiling a registry of known Navajo medicine practitioners. This would help association members locate one another as well as help potential patients find a medicine person who specializes in the ceremony they may need.

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Originally posted in the Navajo Times


Native youth explain their stand against snowmaking

By S.J. Wilson
The Observer

Thursday, November 10, 2005

FLAGSTAFF -- A new group has added its voice to the many organizations and tribes hoping for a win in federal court against artificial snowmaking.

Youth for the Peaks, made up of young high school and college students, provided an infusion of new energy and a loud, powerful voice against what members of 13 tribes and their supporters call further desecration of the San Francisco Peaks. This group led the Oct. 1 march on Flagstaff City Hall.

Kelley Nez, who serves as the group's president, said that members of the group came together to make their voices--that of the youth--known.

"I would say to all Flagstaff youth who believe in fighting against snowmaking to stand as one voice," Nez said. "We want to shut down snowmaking at the Snowbowl, and we want to shut down disrespect for Native American's beliefs."

Nez explained that Youth for the Peaks dressed in camouflage simply to represent what they believe in, and that they conduct themselves in a sacred manner. She also called to other youth in the group, asking them to break the boundaries of shyness.

"We are saying what we have to say. We are not going to be quiet. This is why I was put here, to fight for the sacred mountains," Nez said.

Rosanda Suetopka Thayer knows the power of youth.

"I hope the judge finds it in his heart to do the right thing," Suetopka Thayer said. "I would like to see students [from the reservations] bussed in for the hearing. After all, this is their legacy."

The protest began with the formation of a circle in downtown Flagstaff at Heritage Square. There, Kelvin Long, director of the group ECHOES (Educating Communities while Healing and Offering Environmental Support), introduced the Youth of the Peaks.

"They are the next generation," Long said, praising them for their courage in coming forward.

Dr. Miguel Vasquez, a professor at Northern Arizona University, called the historic treatment of Native American beliefs, as well as those of people of Hispanic descent--as sacrilegious.

"The Europeans who came to this continent actually debated whether Native Americans were actually human beings, whether they had souls and could understand abstract ideas," Vasquez said.

Calling for the need for multicultural tolerance, Vasquez said that the struggle for the San Francisco Peaks has taught the value of the sacred.

"This is an opportunity as a community to support the Native American community," Vasquez said. "It is my hope that this diverse community can come together and respect them, and know we did the right thing."

Robert Tohe of the Sierra Club's Environmental Justice campaign expressed his gratitude to the youth who had gathered to take up the struggle against snowmaking.

"This issue has been in court for the past month," Tohe said. "I want to make one thing clear. This is not a First Amendment lawsuit. Native Americans are not establishing a new religion. This is something that the general public has a misunderstanding about. Let's get that straight.

"No other group of people have to go into court to [win the right] to exercise their religious beliefs. This is part of our frustration," he said.

Tohe, who has attended the hearings in Prescott, told the crowd that the country and the world at large were watching to see what would happen there.

"Our country has done much to defend the religious rights of people in other countries. The world will watch to see what our country does for the religious rights of Native Americans," Tohe said. "There is much at stake."

Tohe spoke of tribal witnesses' testimony that should never have been discussed in the courtroom--information that should be known only to members of the particular tribes or clans.

"Some have refused to reveal certain information. Some have actually had to pray in the courtroom for forgiveness.

Chemical contamination

Equally shocking was a statement by Paul Torrence, a professor of chemistry at NAU's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Torrence, with more than 40 years of experience in biochemistry, has come forward to assist the Sierra Club in its struggle to stop snowmaking on the San Francisco Peaks.

Tossing a copy of the Forest Service's Environmental Impact Statement into the center of the circle, Torrence told participants that such a report would not pass muster in his class.

"I give this document a big red 'F,'" Torrence said.

Although there are many ingredients contained in Flagstaff's treated wastewater that bother environmentalists, one of the worst, according to Torrence is triclosan.

Triclosan is a broad-spectrum antibacterial/antimicrobial agent that is found in many soaps and cosmetics, and is classified as a Class III drug by the FDA.

"Triclosan is a disinfectant chemical that kills bacteria and viruses. People put it in soaps, detergents, cosmetics and other personal care products," Torrence said during a Nov. 5 phone interview. "They put it there because we have this thing about being pure and sterile. The truth is, triclosan is no more effective than soap, but it is a gimmick.

"What Triclosan does is it causes bacteria to become resistant, so we develop bacteria that are harder to kill."

More worrisome to Torrence and other environmental health advocates that its chemical formulation and molecular structure are very close to some of the most toxic chemicals on earth, the chlorinated dioxins and furans (referred to simply as "dioxin") and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). Recent research has found that when exposed to UV rays--such as those used to "purify" wastewater or from the sun itself--triclosan converts to dioxin. Torrence stressed that triclosan remains in wastewater despite its treatment. Dioxin has toxic effects in the parts per trillion--one drop in 300 Olympic-size swimming pools.

"We have known for a long time that dioxin accumulates in animals and in humans," Torrence said. "The Forest Service missed big time in approving the making of snow out of treated wastewater. Dioxin is a long lasting carcinogen, and certain kinds have been found in polar bears. It does not degrade readily."

According to Torrence, once radiated in the treatment plant, then further exposed to UV rays on the mountain slopes all winter, dioxin will be introduced into the food chain and eventually into the aquifers.

"If a hunter takes a deer with accumulations of dioxin in its fats, the dioxin will go into the consumer," Torrence said. "If an eagle eats from the flesh of deer with dioxin in its system, the eagle will take in the dioxin, and it goes all the way up the food chain."

Torrence told the group on Nov. 1 that 17 conservation groups have campaigned for the FDA to stop the use of triclosan.

"The FDA's failure to do so is a national scandal," Torrence said. "There is an ongoing attempt to throw science out and reinvent things. We are here under the authority of nature. The Forest Service's action has taken us back to the dark ages of science and you don't need to believe that the earth is flat, that we are the center of the universe and Flagstaff wastewater is harmless for making snow."

As the sun set, the group marched from Heritage Square, south down San Francisco Street, and west on Route 66. The number of protestors swelled to at least 300 as the group crossed the lawn of City Hall and lined the sidewalk. There, the crowd urged traffic and passersby to help stop artificial snowmaking.

After about 20 minutes, the crowd headed around the building to the steps of City Hall where a City Council meeting was underway.

A young Chicano man added his voice.

"We are on the battlefield to get everyone together. We challenge the city council to come out here. We will show them that the peaks are sacred to all of us. We are one race--the human race," he said.

Protestors remained at City Hall for close to two hours, and though the crowd slowly thinned, Mayor Joe Donaldson definitely got the message they offered.

"They can hear you in there," one police officer said. "Good luck on your issue."

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Originally posted in the Navajo Hopi Observer


Navajos take bus to Prescott trial on Snowbowl

By Joanna Dodder
Special to the Observer

PRESCOTT -- Navajo tribal members turned out in droves Nov. 2 for the resumption of a federal court trial in Prescott about the Snowbowl Ski Area.

The Navajo Nation provided bus transportation Nov.1 from Window Rock to Prescott so tribal members could show their support for the lawsuit on the day that Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. was testifying.

While many of the tribal members protested on the county courthouse plaza across from the federal courthouse, the court turned others away because the courtroom didn't have nearly enough room for everyone who wanted to enter. Some people waited more than an hour in line.

Six Arizona Indian tribes and three environmental groups are suing the U.S. Forest Service over its decision to allow Snowbowl to expand.

The trial is focusing on the tribes' contention that the use of recycled wastewater for snowmaking will be a substantial burden on their ability to practice their religion.

The plaintiff tribes and others, including the local Yavapai-Prescott Tribe, consider the San Francisco Peaks to be one of their most sacred sites. The prominent peaks, which include the tallest mountain in Arizona, are at the center of some tribes' creation stories.

The trial resumed Nov. 2 and 3 after more than a weeklong hiatus. It has experienced several breaks as federal District Court Judge Paul Rosenblatt tries to squeeze it into his schedule as quickly as possible so Snowbowl can move ahead on its expansion plans if the Forest Service wins the lawsuit.

President Shirley and Navajo Nation Council Speaker Lawrence T. Morgan released a letter last week asking tribal members to help protect the peaks and attend the court hearing on Nov. 2.

"The integrity of our culture and our way of life is under attack," the letter states. "When the sanctity of one sacred mountain is compromised, the entire system is compromised. It is our job -- as stewards of the environment in which we live -- to protect these mountains for future generations to come."

The Forest Service approved construction of a 14-mile pipeline to bring effluent from Flagstaff for snowmaking on 200 acres at Snowbowl; cutting down trees on 74 acres to add ski runs; building a snowplay area; and improving ski lifts and lodges.

Snowbowl attorney Janice Schneider told the court that the ski area likely will have to shut down without snowmaking. During the winter of 2001-02, the ski area was open only four days because of the lack of snow during the drought.

Groundwater and surface water just aren't available anywhere near the peaks, Schneider said.

The case could have far-reaching impacts on how the federal government manages land that American Indians hold sacred.

"Millions of acres of federal land is at stake here," Schneider agreed during a pre-trial hearing. The federal government recognizes more than 550 tribes and the Hualapai alone admit they have thousands of shrines, she said.

(Joanna Dodder is a reporter for the Prescott Courier, a sister publication of the Navajo Hopi observer. Contact the reporter at

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Originally posted in the Navajo Hopi Observer


No artificial snow, no go 
Sun Staff Reporter

PRESCOTT -- When businessman Eric Borowsky bought Arizona Snowbowl in 1992, good financial years far outnumbered bad and the mountain hadn't seen short seasons back to back.

Then the drought hit.

And business "was totally different than anything we'd envisioned or imagined," Borowsky told the judge deciding Snowbowl's fate here Monday.

After seven years ending in 2002, the year of a four-day ski season, Borowsky's business was in the hole. His bank was bought up and declined to renew the company's line of credit, with a debt of $2.2 million.

So he put his own assets on the line to cover day-to-day expenses, telling the next bank he'd ask Coconino National Forest to allow manmade snow on the San Francisco Peaks in order to be cleared for a loan.

Bottom line: Snowbowl eventually will close without snowmaking and $20 million worth of improvements, Snowbowl officials told federal District Court Judge Paul Rosenblatt. It's not a question of if but when, and that depends on the weather.

The court case is expected to draw to a close this week, although both sides expect further rounds of appeals.

If the judge rules in Snowbowl's favor and no injunction is granted pending an appeal by tribes and environmentalists, the ski area could be making snow by next November. This would mean it would become the first in the country to make snow entirely from reclaimed wastewater.

If Rosenblatt finds for the Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, Flagstaff Activist Network, Sierra Club and other plaintiffs, it could set a major precedent regarding tribes' power to control what occurs on sacred lands they don't own.

Based on fees paid to the Forest Service, it is estimated that Snowbowl has averaged $6.4 million in gross revenues annually over the 13 seasons Borowsky and his partners have owned it.

At least four years have been financial losses.

Allowing the ski area to make snow, as 80 percent to 90 percent of other ski areas do, would be a way to guarantee its financial viability, general manager J.R. Murray said.

"Of course, it's totally dependent upon the weather, but I predict the demise of the ski area operation," if snowmaking isn't allowed, Murray told the judge.

The Coconino National Forest is open to multiple uses, including skiing, under federal law. Whether this means the forest must simply allow it or facilitate such a business has been debated in this case.

Snowbowl has taken its woes to the Arizona congressional delegation as well as to Mark Rey, the Department of Agriculture undersecretary who oversees the Forest Service, Murray testified. It has won approval from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality to use the city of Flagstaff's treated sewage water for snowmaking. And Snowbowl has a commitment from the city to sell it the treated wastewater once the permit is issued by the Forest Service.


The water source is a major point of contention, although some plaintiffs have said they'd sue even if drinking water were used.

One of the plaintiffs and a Snowbowl competitor, the White Mountain Apaches, makes snow at Sunrise Park Resort with water that is a blend of reclaimed wastewater and a natural lake.

The managers for that ski area, on tribal land, said in a deposition that snowmaking gave them the ability to open earlier, profit more, and that they planned to triple snowmaking.

There is no warning not to eat the snow there, as there would be under law at Snowbowl.

Sunrise is not on a sacred mountain, lawyers for the plaintiffs countered, and it isn't using much reclaimed water to make snow.

"This is a discharge from one day lodge," plaintiff attorney Howard Shanker said.

Lawyers for the Forest Service and Snowbowl have said that finding water other than reclaimed water would be either cost-prohibitive or unlikely.


Snowbowl employs an average of 500 per ski season, spending $2 million per year on salaries.

The ski area has invested $4.5 million in development in the last 13 years

The Forest Service has received about $1 million in fees for Snowbowl's land use in that time

Skiers are predominantly from Phoenix, up to 70 percent, and Flagstaff, with only 2 percent coming from out of state.


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Originally posted in the Arizona Daily Sun


Snowbowl trial ends
Could be January before judge decides if snowmaking desecrates Peaks

By Joanna Dodder
Special to the Observer

PRESCOTT -- The trial concerning expansion and snowmaking at the Arizona Snowbowl ski area ended last week, but it could be 2006 before the judge issues a decision on who won.

Six Arizona Indian tribes and several environmental groups are suing the U.S. Forest Service for granting Snowbowl's request to expand its operations at the ski area on the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff.

The non-jury trial centered on the tribes' contention that using Flagstaff's recycled wastewater for snowmaking would desecrate the San Francisco Peaks, which are sacred to them as well as seven other tribes.

One of the plaintiffs, the White Mountain Apache Tribe, uses a combination of lake water and a small amount of recycled wastewater on its Sunrise Park ski area, but states that peak is not sacred.

The tribes are arguing that the snowmaking at Snowbowl will violate the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) by putting a substantial burden on their ability to practice their religions.

This is the first case to test the applicability of RFRA to native people's sacred sites, so it could set a wide precedent for future tribal arguments against activities on federal lands.

The peaks are the home of more than one tribe's creation story and spiritual guides.

Tribes note that wastewater contains the fluids of sick and dead people, and say that will hamper the peaks' ability to heal others.

The Forest Service and Snowbowl owners argue that the expansion and snowmaking won't be a burden, especially since the ski area covers only one percent of the San Francisco Peaks.

The Forest Service tried to convince Judge Paul Rosenblatt that its decision met the two tests of RFRA: the ski area expansion furthers a compelling government interest, and it is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.

Snowbowl owners say the ski area will close without snowmaking, citing seasons as short as four days during the current drought. Groundwater is scarce in the area.

"How is it that the federal government can promote the interests of a handful of skiers and businessmen over the deeply held religious beliefs of over 250,000 tribal people?" counters Yavapai-Apache Nation Council Member and Historian Vincent Randall.

The trial began Oct. 12 and continued intermittently over a period of a month as Judge Rosenblatt's schedule allowed.

Before the trial, the judge decided to rule on other parts of the lawsuit using the existing Forest Service administrative record instead of a trial. Those arguments centered on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The plaintiffs argued that the Forest Service didn't follow the requirements of NEPA because it didn't consider some cumulative impacts of the expansion, it defined the purpose and need of the expansion too narrowly, and it didn't look at enough alternatives to the expansion.

Findings of fact and conclusions of law are due to the court by Nov. 30. Objections are due Dec. 8.

Judge Rosenblatt probably won't issue a decision on the case until late December or January, said Howard Shanker, attorney for several of the plaintiffs.

It's likely that whatever the judge decides, the case will face appeal to the 9th Circuit Court.

(Joanna Dodder is a reporter for The Daily Courier in Prescott, a sister publication of the Navajo Hopi Observer. Contact the reporter at

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Originally posted in the Navajo Hopi Observer



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posted 26 march 2005, by louve14
updated 19 sept. 2006