Navajo Zoo - Obama Asked To Protect Sacred Mountain
By Kathy Helms
WINDOW ROCK – For the second year in a row the Navajo Nation Zoo will celebrate ZooFest, a free day of fun for family members of all ages.
The event begins at 9 a.m. May 2 and features food, games, door prizes, face painting, inflatable slides, guest speakers and more. The only tribal zoo in the country, the Navajo Nation Zoo has just completed a $25,000 renovation.
Matthew Holdgate, curator, said work is being completed on an indoor multi-species exhibit featuring a waterfall and species one might find in the back yard – rabbits, chipmunks, and prairie dogs for starters – tucked amid native plants. A video monitor features a Navajo storyteller talking about the animals and their relation to Navajo culture and traditions.
Indoor exhibits feature everything from the bug wall to the Lizard Lounge to snakes and skunks. “Originally when the zoo was built, it was probably one of the best zoos in the country since it incorporated all the natural rock formations and all the live plants,” Holdgate said. Founded in 1962, the zoo serves as “a sanctuary for nature and spirit.”
Like people, each animal has a history, and all are at the zoo because they are unable to survive in the wild on their own. For example, “B.J.,” the bobcat was taken from the wild as a kitten to be raised as a pet. Once he began tearing apart the house, he ended up at the zoo. Because he never learned to hunt, his chances of survival on his own would be slim at best.
The majority of animals on exhibit are native to the Navajo Nation, though some have been donated by other zoos, including two Mexican gray wolves, “Rico” and “Esperanza,” who came from the Rio Grande Zoo in Albuquerque. Naturally timid, the wolves have the option to show themselves to visitors or to remain out of sight amid the rocks and trees. Zoo staff respect their privacy and give them that opportunity.
“They're part of the Mexican wolf species survival plan. Some zoos help breed the wolves for release into the wild. We generally serve as a home for retired breeders,” Holdgate said. Many of the zoo's inhabitants have been hit by cars or have flown and landed on power lines and sustained injuries which make life outside of captivity impossible.
Napoleon, a 15-year-old cougar, and his partner Sophie were named by sponsors from the zoo's adopt-an-animal program.
“With our adoption program, you can not only get your name on a plaque and help pay for the animal's food, but if they are a new animal that's never been adopted, the first person gets to choose a name,” Holdgate said. “We still have a lot of animals who need names.”
The fee is $100 for a full year and the sponsor gets a certificate and framed photo of their animal, as well as their name on the plaque identifying the animal and recognition at ZooFest.
The black bear exhibit is unique in that the bears live outdoors where they actually can dig their own dens in the ground to hibernate during winter. “Other zoos have concrete floors so they bring their bears in for the winter,” Holdgate said, “but here they get to exhibit natural behaviors.”
The bears were orphaned when they were just cubs. “Their mother was hit by a car and the cubs were following behind. Zoo staff actually bottle fed and raised them from babies,” he said. Signs are evident of the dens they dug this past winter.
“They dig basically at an angle and then they flatten out a little. It's just enough room to fit a bear in. Usually in the winter when you come walking by, you'll see her snout sticking out just a little bit, keeping her nose out so she can know when it's feeding time,” Holdgate said of one of the bears.
“The wild bears will hibernate because of reduction in feed availability. If you feed them constantly they don't hibernate but they will dig a den and they'll still stay in the den pretty much all winter. We put the food outside the den and if you're here at the right time, you'll see a big paw come out and grab the food and pull it back into the den.”
One of the new favorites among zoo patrons is 2-year-old “Bobbie” the elk. Bobbie also is an orphan. “Allegedly someone found him alone and brought him to us,” Holdgate said. “But more likely the parents were finding food a ways off and were nervous because humans were there. We always tell everyone that if you come across a baby animal in the wild, it's best to leave them because chances are the parents are nearby waiting for you to leave.”
Just past the elk exhibit is an owl, two porcupines and the site of what is hoped to soon be an eagle sanctuary.
“We have the location and the expertise in animal care,” Holdgate said. All they're missing is the funding. With federal officials making sweeps in several states, confiscating eagle feathers, the eagle sanctuary would allow the Navajo Nation the opportunity to collect feathers and distribute them to tribal members without fear of confiscation.
“Right now there are only two tribes who have made this commitment: the Zuni Tribe and the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma,” Holdgate said. The zoo now has two golden eagles, both of which were hit by cars and are unable to fly. With an eagle sanctuary, the zoo could provide a home to other injured bald and golden eagles which otherwise might have to be euthanized.
Navajo Looks To Obama For Protection Of Sacred Mountain
By Kathy Helms
WINDOW ROCK – The Navajo Nation Council has given its approval for the Nation's attorneys and leaders to meet with the Obama Administration in hopes of working out a settlement to protect the sacred San Francisco Peaks from desecration.
The Nation is seeking an expedited meeting prior to May 8, when the U.S. Solicitor General's response brief is due to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In “Navajo Nation v. United States Forest Service,” the Nation and three other tribes challenged the Forest Service's approval of an expansion of the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort on the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The expansion included using reclaimed sewer water to make artificial snow, which in the view of Indian religious practitioners, desecrates the mountain.
In 2008, the 9th Circuit, in an en banc decision, held that the Forest Service's approval did not violate the tribes religious freedom because the proposal does not place a substantial burden on their exercise of religion by forcing them to act contrary to their religion under the threat of a legal penalty or choose between their religion and the receipt of a government benefit.
Delegate Leonard Tsosie said it is feared that the Supreme Court will take the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in the wrong way, “because they're somewhat not sentimental to Indian cases.” The high court previously has withdrawn or denied First Amendment rights to tribes when it comes to federal land-management decisions.
The San Francisco Peaks, or Dook'o'oosliid, the sacred mountain to the west, is one of four mountains held holy by the Navajo people and 12 other Arizona tribes. Mount Taylor, or Tsoodzil, the sacred mountain to the south, is threatened by uranium mining.
The Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, Yavapai-Apache Nation, the Havasupai, White Mountain Apache, Hualapai and others filed suit in federal court to stop what is viewed as a “government-sponsored desecration of a well-documented sacred and holy site.”
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act represents the last chance for the Navajo Nation and tribes across the country to protect their sovereignty, practice their religions, and to survive as a people, according to the emergency legislation sponsored by Tsosie and passed, 60-2, last week by Council. Edward Jim and Lawrence Platero voted against the measure.
The Nation has turned to President Barack Obama, who during his election campaign committed to honoring the government-to-government relationship between tribes and the federal government, ensuring that treaty obligations are met and that tribes will have a voice in Washington.
“What this does is it allows our lawyers and also our leaders to sit down with the Obama Administration and look at the possibility of settling the San Francisco Peaks (case) in favor of the Navajo Nation because the lawsuit is 'Navajo Nation v. U.S. Forest Service,' and the U.S. Forest Service is being represented by the U.S. government lawyers which the U.S. government has control over,” Tsosie said.
Delegate Ervin Keeswood told Council there also is a need to indicate that there are instruments of international law to which the Nation could resort.
“I believe that it's time to start quoting and also remind the United States' government of these actions internationally. At some point in time ... we may have to go to the international community for resolution of some of these matters if they're not heard as we wish in the United States government,” he said.
Delegate Rex Lee Jim, the Nation's “international representative” at the United Nations, received approval for an amendment to the legislation.
The amendment cites religious rights contained in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man supported by the Organization of American States, of which the United States is a member. It also refers to religious rights contained in the American Convention on Human Rights, signed by the United States in 1977.
In September 2007, the United Nations adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, by which the international community has made the effort to strengthen partnership with states, indigenous people and civil society as a whole.
The declaration recognized that “indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.”
The United States is one of four states that voted against the declaration.
“Without such commitment by the United States to protect the rights of its indigenous peoples, sadly the protection of holy and sacred sites such as Dook'o'oosliid will continue to yield to commercial interests,” the amendment states.
The Navajo Nation is formally requesting that Obama, on behalf of the United States and its indigenous peoples, sign the declaration without delay and stand firm with its commitment to protect and preserve holy and sacred sites of indigenous people within the United States.
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