High Court Petitioned to Protect Sacredness, Environmental Integrity Of San Francisco Peaks

January 23, 2009

Source: Indian Country Today


The Navajo Nation and other interested parties have filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking review of a precedent setting case to protect sacred sites and religious practices.

The Supreme Court is the last stop for Navajo Nation v. U.S. Forest Service, a case that began in 2002 when the service granted a special permit to the Arizona Snowbowl to expand its ski area and begin spraying up to 1.5 million gallons a day of treated sewage effluent as artificial snow on the slopes of the San Francisco Peaks.

The Peaks, a sacred mountain in northern Arizona, is revered by at least 13 American Indian tribes who consider the site “a home of spiritual beings; a place where significant mythological events occurred; a place where spirits of the dead went to be changed into bringers of rain; a personification of gods and goddesses; and a source of life,” according to the petition.

The Snowbowl is a private company that leases public land from the Forest Service. In addition to the nations’ interest in protecting their holy place, the case is a classic example of profit versus environmental integrity, public health and, as a lower court suggested, common sense.

The Navajo Nation, Havasupai Tribe, White Mountain Apache Nation, Yavapai-Apache Nation, the Hopi Tribe, the Hualapai Tribe, Rex Rilousi, Dianna Uqualla, the Flagstaff Activist Network, Norris Nez, and Bill Bucky Preston filed the petition Jan. 5.

The case has wended its way through district court to the high court. Following an unsuccessful administrative procedures appeal, the tribes and environmental partners sued the Forest Service in Arizona federal court. After an 11-day trial, that court ruled in the Forest Service’s favor, saying that spraying sewage water on the Peaks would not substantially burden the tribes’ exercise of religion.