Snowbowl, religion, and the environment

The Navajo Nation won a lawsuit, but you are not being told the whole story

Regular reader Juliaki pointed out this article and asked for my take.

An Arizona ski resort's plan to use treated sewage to make snow on a mountain sacred to several Native American tribes violates religious freedom laws, a U.S appeals court ruled on Monday.

The decision on Arizona Snowbowl was a victory for Native American tribes after years of setbacks in their fight to bar the resort from using waste water on the federally owned mountain 150 miles north of Phoenix.

"It's like stomping on the scriptures in the world of Christianity," Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. said in a telephone interview. "This is my essence, the essence of who I am."

This issue is a lot more complicated than the article makes it look.

First off, there are differences between the Diné (who we call Navajo), the land, the Navajo Nation, and the Navajo Reservation. The Navajo Nation is the legal entity that occupies the Navajo reservation, but it is not necessarily the Diné themselves. The concept of "Navajo lands" doesn't mean land ownership in the American sense, although there is some overlap, mainly for the benefit of the court system.

What we call the San Francisco Peaks in Arizona is actually the remains of an extinct volcano that used to be much higher and all one mountain. It is one of the Sacred Mountains that borders the west in Diné belief. There are twelve other Native American tribes that also find it sacred.

According to some interpretations, by treaty the San Francisco Peaks are supposed to be part of the Navajo Reservation and the American government welched on the deal. It's not the first or the last time the FedGovs have fallen down on that, they screwed the mineral leases up as well. I think there are about five separate treaties with three different tribes that touch on the ownership of the peaks, which is an pretty rough concept taken in the context of Navajo belief. Of course, all this went out the window when President McKinley did a Federal land grab and created a forest reserve, which later became part of the Coconino National Forest.

The Snowbowl has been losing money for some time, mainly because of widespread drought conditions. Unlike Arizona's other mountains, the San Francisco Peaks stick up all by themselves and are surrounded on desert on all sides. That creates unusual weather. Since the land is owned by the Federal government, any concessionaire has to follow all sorts of government regulations when it comes to the environment and religion.

But the big issue is that it is Federal land, not the hoops that the business has to hop through. It is Federal land in a patch of forest surrounded by desert. It is Federal land grabbed not once but twice.

Even on the good years, it doesn't really get enough snow to support a ski resort.

For all the "economic benefits," it really depends on the weather. Artificial snow won't fix the underlying condition.

I don't support using Navajo and other Native beliefs to stop something that has environmental roots. But I really don't like the idea of letting someone bring in artificial snow on Federal land either.

— NeoWayland

Posted: Thu - March 15, 2007 at 02:36 PM  Tag

 ◊  ◊   ◊  ◊ 

Random selections from NeoWayland's library

Pagan Vigil "Because LIBERTY demands more than just black or white"
© 2005 - 2009 All Rights Reserved