Save San Francisco Peaks From Desecration
By Kathy Helms
WINDOW ROCK – Navajo Nation Council Delegate Thomas Walker and the Human Rights Commission received unanimous approval this week from the Intergovernmental Relations Committee to request intervention by the United Nations in permanently protecting the San Francisco Peaks as a sacred site.
Walker presented the resolution following the committee's approval of two other human rights bills, including a memorandum of agreement between Navajo and the city of Grants, and a resolution opposing Arizona's new immigration law.
“This is a big day for the advocacy of human rights, especially related to Navajo people and indigenous people in the Southwest United States,” Walker said.
“The legislation here is a communication that we want to forward to Professor S. James Anaya, Special Rapporteur of the United Nations, on the human rights violations and fundamental freedoms of Navajos and other indigenous people as it pertains to sacred sites, in this case specifically, the San Francisco Peaks, and how it's about to be desecrated through the use of reclaimed water or dirty water,” he said.
The Navajo Nation and other tribes have sought legal remedy in the federal court system to no avail. Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider Navajo's appeal in “Navajo Nation v. U.S. Forest Service.”
U.S. District Court Judge Mary H. Murguia will hear oral arguments at 1:30 p.m. June 14 in another lawsuit filed by the Save the Peaks Coalition challenging the proposed use of treated sewer water to make artificial snow at the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort on the San Francisco Peaks.
“The Forest Service failed to adequately consider the impacts of potential human ingestion of snow made from reclaimed sewer water as required by applicable law,” said attorney Howard Shanker. “By approving treated sewage effluent for snow-making without adequate analysis, the government essentially turns the ski area into a test facility with our children as the laboratory rats. That is unconscionable.”
Flagstaff and the Snowbowl entered into an agreement March 20, 2002, for the business to purchase treated, directly delivered reclaimed water from the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
The city of Flagstaff's Water Commission tabled a proposal Thursday to use an alternative supply of stored reclaimed water for snow-making purposes. The Utilities Commission said Flagstaff stored enough reclaimed water underground last year to provide four years' worth of water for snow-making. The connection point would be near Thorpe Park, downstream from the wastewater plant.
But Navajo, the Hopi Tribe and others do not support artificial snow-making on the sacred mountain.
The Navajo Human Rights Commission hosted a human rights “listening session” in Window Rock March 17 during which comments were presented to officials from the U.S. State Department by the Dine Hataalii Association and others regarding sacred sites.
According to Navajo teachings, the Diné descended from the earth, succeeding through five worlds and arrived in the area between the four sacred mountains. Here they lived in harmony with the earth, its plant life, the animals, the air, water, the cosmos and everything else in this environment.
To them, the Holy People ordain the Diné as keeper of the earth; instilling into their lives the sacred prayers and ceremonies for living a balanced life with the natural forces that surround the earth and the universe.
The essence of the Diné Life Way is the intimate relationship between the people and the land, with sacred sites being the foundation. However that foundation is in jeopardy with threats of uranium mining on Mount Taylor in New Mexico and use of reclaimed wastewater at the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff.
The Human Rights Commission, Dine Hataalii Association, the Dine Medicine Man Association and Azee' Bee Nahagha of Dine Nation allege in a statement to the Special Rapporteur that the United States of America violated and continues to violate the human rights and fundamental freedoms to preserve and protect the sacred sites, cultural and religious beliefs and practices of Navajos.
“The Dine have exhausted all of their domestic remedies through the United States judicial process,” they said.
Though Navajo and 12 indigenous nations in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah sued the United States to protect the San Francisco Peaks from economic exploitation and desecration, their claims were rejected.
In the 9th Circuit opinion which stood after the Supreme Court refused to hear Navajo's case, the court held that the only effect of the proposed upgrades on the San Francisco Peaks “is on the plaintiffs' subjective, emotional religious experience.”
While the use of reclaimed wastewater was offensive to the plaintiffs' religious sensibilities, perhaps creating “damaged spiritual feelings,” the court said, it “is not a 'substantial burden' on the free exercise of religion.”
The Human Rights Commission said that “predictably,” the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1987, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 did not protect the San Francisco Peaks or the rights of indigenous peoples to practice their cultural and religious beliefs upon grounds deemed sacred since time immemorial.
The commission alleges the United States has developed inappropriate business practices that adversely affect indigenous peoples and is violating practices established by the charter of the United Nations, including denying Navajo and other tribes the right to free exercise of religion.
The commission and the Dine medicine men and women are asking that their written communication be registered as a formal complaint against the United States.
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