UN Asked To Help Protect San Francisco Peaks From Reclaimed Waste Water
By Kathy Helms
ST. MICHAELS – The Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission is urging a U.N. official to submit a letter of allegation against the United States in an effort to get the federal government to uphold its human rights obligation as a U.N. member-state.
Having exhausted all domestic remedies through the U.S. judicial process to protect and preserve Dook’o’osliid – one of four sacred mountains that mark the boundary of the Diné aboriginal homeland – the Commission submitted a formal complaint to James Anaya, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, regarding the use of reclaimed wastewater to make artificial snow at a ski resort located on the San Francisco Peaks.
“We are very confident that the Special Rapporteur will thoroughly investigate the sacred sites violation as it pertains to the desecration of the San Francisco Peaks and fully consider the Diné and other indigenous nations' concerns,” Duane H. Yazzie, Commission chair, said.
The Commission first sent a formal complaint to Anaya in May, alleging the United States 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 and other indigenous peoples.
The “mountain that always glitters on top” is regarded as a single, living entity. It is also home to the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort, which will begin making artificial snow this month using reclaimed wastewater, according to the Commission.
On June 8, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to weigh in on the matter of Navajo Nation v. U.S. Forest Service, regarding expansion of the Snowbowl and the use of reclaimed water for artificial snow-making, despite the Coconino National Forest Service’s admission that use of reclaimed water would contaminate the natural resources needed to perform ceremonies that continue to be the basis for the cultural identity of a number of Arizona tribes.
In a Sept. 2 statement prior to Flagstaff City Council approving the use of reclaimed wastewater for the Snowbowl, Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. said that each day, Navajos witness the chipping away of their way of life and culture.
“Over the past eight years, we’ve seen the U.S. Forest Service, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court, and now our neighbors in the city of Flagstaff miss opportunities to help us to perpetuate our ancient way of life, for the enjoyment of skiers and the benefit of one developer instead.
“It is irrefutable that these decisions hurt indigenous people in ways unseen and unfelt by our neighbors, as Navajos watch that which they’ve always known to be holy, immutable and consecrated, sacrificed for money, with little empathy shown to us or to our beliefs.”
On Nov. 5 in Geneva, Harold H. Koh, legal advisor to the U.S. Department of State, said religious rights are upheld by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and made reference to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 27.
“It is rare that the U.S. acknowledges international binding treaty to be applicable on indigenous peoples,” Navajo Human Rights Commission Executive Director Leonard Gorman said.
To date, however, the United States has not adopted the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In their response to the U.N. Human Rights Council on Nov. 9, the U.S. delegation said the United States is reviewing its position in response to calls from tribes and other indigenous groups and individuals.
“We certainly believe that signing the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, without reservation, would signify that the United States is committed to rectify the abuse suffered by Native peoples,” Yazzie said.
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