The Journal of History     Fall 2005    TABLE OF CONTENTS


Tribes protest waste water snow on sacred mountain

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - American Indians and local residents protested a plan to make snow from wastewater at a ski resort near the Grand Canyon. Skiers and snowboarders were told that San Francisco Peaks are sacred to 13 area Indian tribes and among the Navajos' four sacred mountains.

Among those protesting with signs at the base of the mountain were members of the Navajo punk rock band Blackfire. The Benally family, members of the Save the Peaks Coalition, sang traditional Navajo songs to honor the mountain, which has been assaulted by various industries.

Jeneda Benally said, "We are here to let people know what the ski area is trying to do to this sacred mountain. We want to bring in the new year with respect!

"We are not here to tell people what they can or can't do, we want people to know that there are respectful uses of the mountain. Snowmaking with 180 million gallons of contaminated wastewater, and clear cutting 74 acres, is certainly not one of them."

The degradation of the sacred mountain includes areas where medicine people collect healing herbs and conduct ceremonies, with prayers for the well being of the world.

Earlier, in his comments to the Coconino Forest Service, Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. said, "The San Francisco Peaks is the essence of who we are.

"The United States of America will commit genocide by allowing the desecration of the essence of our way of life."

After the City of Flagstaff announced the plan to use wastewater to make snow at the Arizona Snowbowl last year on the sacred mountain, Navajo, Hopi, Havasupai and other medicine men came together in to protest the plan at City Hall.

The Save the Peaks Coalition was formed in February 2004 and attracted support from members of the local business community. Pointing out that disrespect for Native culture is counter productive to the city's goal of attracting tourists, business owners told the city to honor Native traditions. The coalition's goal is to address human rights and environmental justice concerns.

"The Hopi people believe the Katsinas live on the mountain," Hopi Vice Chairman Caleb Johnson said during the press conference at Flagstaff City Hall. "Holy means it is set apart. It is like the sanctuary of a church, you would not want to desecrate a sacred place. This is a holy place and it should remain holy."

San Francisco Peaks is a dwelling place of the Gaan, mountain spirit people of the Yavapai Apache, and a place of prayer and offerings.

The planned expansion of the Arizona Snowbowl calls for the clear cutting of 74 acres of pine forests for the new runs, ski lifts and a snow play area. Along with the destruction to the environment, the planned new lodges exploit American Indian culture for profit with a new American Indian cultural center.

"This development will be a severe desecration if it is to be allowed," said Wahleah Johns from the Black Mesa Water Coalition at the protest on January 2.

"This mountain is sacred to 13 tribes, how can it be ignored? They want to build a cultural center to say it's OK, but you cannot desecrate a site to teach people how sacred it is, it's a horrible contradiction. "If they put this sewer water on the mountain, what's going to happen to the animals, the medicinal plants and kids who play up there?"

The City of Flagstaff plans to sell water made with reclaimed wastewater to the Snowbowl, which would require a 14-mile pipeline and a 10 million gallon wastewater storage pond.

Earlier, tribal members pressed for the comments of traditional elders in remote areas to be included in the environmental impact statement. The Snowbowl is part of the Coconino National Forest and is required to undergo a process that analyzes potential environmental impacts before development is initiated. After the final EIS is completed, the Coconino Forest Supervisor will make a decision if the development proceeds.

Klee Benally said tribal officials, medicine people and concerned citizens said that the Snowbowl, Forest Service and City of Flagstaff are disregarding American Indian religious beliefs, public health issues with contaminate wastewater and environmental concerns.

He said the Flagstaff City Water Department claims that the wastewater is clean enough to drink, but recent scientific findings show pharmaceuticals and hormones in the wastewater.

"The effects of endocrine disruptors on local plants and animals have not yet been determined and are still being studied," Klee Benally said.

Last February, Cora Maxx, aide to Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. said at City Hall that she felt the issue was serious enough that a boycott of Flagstaff might be in order. Coconino Forest Supervisor Nora Rasure is expected to issue her decision on the Snowbowl expansion in late January or early February.

Meanwhile, there is new feature documentary, "The Snowbowl Effect," currently being screened across Arizona, including a show at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock. For more information, visit

Posted: January 26, 2005
by: Brenda Norrell / Indian Country Today


The Journal of History - Fall 2005 Copyright © 2005 by News Source, Inc.