Forest Supervisor’s ski area <br>decision a letdown to tribes<br>

Photo by S.J. Wlson/Observer

Leigh Kuwanwisiwma declared March 8 a “day of infamy.” Kuwanwisiwma serves as the Cultural Preservation Officer for the Hopi Tribe.

One, Wilton Kooyahoema, from the village of Hotevilla, said that he had worked on the Snowbowl project for a number of years.

“We were doing real good, but now they have brought this up again. The Hopi Tribe will never allow snow made from reclaimed water. Our spiritual ancestors will not allow it,” Kooyahoema said. “There is a Spirit Being living up there. We have seen it and have heard it.”

Another, Lawrence Keevama, the head priest of the Katsina Society of the Hopi Tribe, introduced himself, humbly saying, “I’m not a speechmaker. I’ve been reading about these peaks, and I believed that this issue was settled once and for all. I am against artificial snowmaking. There are living things up there,” he continued, gesturing over his shoulder towards the peaks. “It’s going to hurt them—it’s going to kill them. I enjoy a natural snow. I say, let’s cut this out once and for all.”

Money, Keevama said, just comes and goes, and that spirituality has a long-lasting value.

“When I pray, my prayers are not just for the Hopi people. My prayers are always for all of you, all colors,” he concluded.

In a press release issued by the Hopi Tribe, Wayne Taylor shared these sentiments.

“Once again the federal government has made a decision that is clearly in opposition to the passionate pleas of Native American nations who hold the peaks as sacred,” Taylor wrote. “The Hopi Tribe is united in our stance [opposing snowmaking] and will continue to reiterate our profound disagreement with the proposed action. We believe that we are also entitled to the fundamental freedoms guaranteed all citizens by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which we believe should be honored by all parties.”

Kelvin Long, director of ECHOES (Educating Communities While Healing and Offering Environmental Support), also condemned Rasure’s decision.

“What Nora Rasure is doing is creating division between Indian and non-Indian people. We have always had an understanding of who we are,” Long said.

He continued to describe that this state of being was interrupted by cultural invasion began centuries ago, by Spanish, Mexican and Anglos.

“Nora Rasure is continuing a cycle that they brought, creating polices and laws taking our culture,” Long said. “I ask those who ski not to go up there. Boycott the Snowbowl.”

Long went on to recognize that this region is now home to many cultures, and that there is a need for healthy relationship as a community.

“It’s all our home now. We have to learn to share, to live together. This decision is stopping healthy relationships,” Long concluded.

Cora Maxx, who serves as assistant staff to Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, stepped forward to represent that tribal leader. Shirley, she said, was unable to attend because of prior commitments made as he had been led to believe that Rasure’s decision would be rendered at the end of March. Instead, Maxx explained, Rasure informed the president of her decision earlier in the week.

“The president is very disappointed,” Maxx said. “The Navajo Nation has not changed its position from previous times. The Navajo Nation holds and cherishes [the peaks] as a sacred place.”

When a member of the press reminded Maxx of a statement she had made last year, suggesting that the Navajo Nation might consider a boycott of Flagstaff in response to approval of artificial snowmaking, Maxx acknowledged that statement.

“I initially made that suggestion as a private citizen,” she said. “Individuals are looking at many alternatives in the works. Grassroots individuals are expressing a sentiment that a boycott effort may begin.”

Long stepped back to the microphone on behalf of several medicine people who were listening from the audience.

“They have told me that this decision is affecting a lot of young warriors in Iraq,” he said. “There have been prayers and offerings made that they may come home safely. This is another reason [against the approval of Alternative 2] to add to the list.”

Just before leading Native Americans of several tribes in the AIM song, Benally stepped forward holding the Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision aloft.

Benally was outraged that with only 45 days to appeal the decision, the Forest Service was sending the document out on CD ROM discs to a population largely without computers. Benally also pointed out that there isn’t a translation of the document available to assist non-English speakers.

“I still believe that the citizens of Flagstaff value respect more than money,” Benally declared.

The following afternoon, Jeneda Benally sat curled in a chair in front of her computer. Her brother, Klee, had been up most of the night posting information on websites and sending and answering e-mail to numerous supporters and news agencies, according to Benally. Her mother, Berta, walked through the house—clearly the middle of a war zone. The dining room table was buried under a flurry of press releases from many of the outraged tribes and from activist and environmental groups. Several copies of the Arizona Daily Sun, featuring Klee, open-mouthed at the drum, are also scattered across the table within easy reach of any who might care to read a copy. Berta openly expressed her disappointment and anger at the decision.

Jeneda had yet to read the article. Her exhaustion was clear as she prepared to ready herself for a meeting of the coalition later that evening.

The atmosphere was punctuated as the phone continuously rang. The callers were members of the press from across the nation, tribal representatives and supporters seeking more information, expressing their own disappointment.

Her mother, spent, straightened the house. Watching her mother move back and forth past the dining room, Jeneda wrapped her arms tightly around her shoulders, twisting in a stretch. A petite woman, the pose brings out bone and muscle—and a quiet defiance.

“I’ve never truly felt like a warrior before,” she said softly—this despite her role in fighting relocation, her position in the band, Blackfire, and her every day activism for indigenous rights and environmental issues.

“Nora Rasure has made me a warrior.”

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