Spiritual gathering a sharing of knowledge
On April 21-23, the Dook'o'osliid Spiritual Gathering united Navajo and other tribal members in an informational and spiritual event designed to garner support for tribal demands that no further desecration on the sacred San Francisco Peaks. The event, sponsored by the Azee' Bee Nahagha of the DinŽ, held the event to bring public awareness, understanding and education on the impacts of the Arizona Snowbowl's planned expansion and use of snowmaking there.
The event included ceremonial and prayer vigils through traditional blessing and offerings as well as peyote ceremonies all geared to bring about a positive outcome in tribal and environmental groups' appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
Plans to expand the ski resort as well as using artificial snow made from reclaimed water has outraged the 13 tribes that hold the peaks sacred. It is difficult for non-Indians to understand the importance that the peaks hold for these indigenous people.
"Dook'o'osliid begins with a single cloud to bring us rain," said Robert Fulton, a traditional Navajo medicine man. "It brings us the snow in the winter it also brings the wind. We go up to Dook'o'osliid for our medicine and we go there to pray and when we see it from our home, it tells us things are well and good. If we destroy this mountain, we will also destroy the rain, the snow, the wind and we will destroy the serenity of life we have now under Dook'o'osliid's eyes. We will no longer be able to see the clouds as they drift forth from Dook'o'osliid bringing us rain nor will we be able to seek comfort by the sight of our sacred mountains, for we will have violated her and we will not be worthy of her powers."
David Clark, the president of the organization Azee' Bee Nahagha of the DinŽ, said that the organization chose to put on the event out of their concern for the safety of the Sacred Peaks.
"The mountain is very spiritual for us," Clark said. "We don't want to see any damage there or anything like that. The San Francisco Peaks is our religious connection to what we believe."
Clark said that his organization saw the spiritual gathering as a way of getting information about further desecration to the peaks out to the people who hold the mountain sacred.
"We don't want to see it used as a playground," Clark said. "It is not a playground to us. It is sacred--a part of our way of life, and we don't want to see reclaimed water on it, because that isn't good for the peaks.
"There are many plants, herbs and vegetation on the peaks that we use in our religious ways," Clark added. "I don't think it is nice to use reclaimed water in snow for use on the peaks."
Clark was pleased with the gathering.
"Tribes from this area came over to help us--it was a success. We hope our non-Indian neighbors will understand and help preserve the sacredness of the Peaks," Clark said. "We would just like to see everything remain the way it is. We don't want to see the Peaks or the nature their damaged or polluted. We don't want our way of life polluted--especially by something like reclaimed water."
Clark expressed his gratitude to all of the people, tribes and organizations that assisted in making the spiritual gathering a success.
"I think there are a lot of issues here, and so far, tribes and organizations have not been united," said Lenora Hatathlie, a member of District Three of Azee' Bee Nahagha of the DinŽ. "The ceremony was an effort to resolve differences. There is a need for us as Indian people to unite on issues because that is what the government uses--a divide and conquer strategy--so that it is easy to compromise whatever environmental and sacred places they wish."
Hatathlie said that it is important that native people become more aware of sacred site issues because the federal government has already done away with a great deal of legislation protecting these sites.
Planning efforts started in early February, Hatathlie said.
"Western Agency Azee' Bee Nahagha districts proposed to have this gathering around Dook'o'osliid, since we were closer to the sacred mountain," she said.
The biggest obstacle the organization faced was following the guidelines for holding the different ceremonies--while communicating the need to do so to other individuals and groups, Hatathlie said.
Jerry Hatathlie said that the event concerned all Navajo people and the old traditional way that depends on the Four Sacred Mountains that define their homeland.
"All of our ceremonies are concerned with that mountain," Hatathlie said of the San Francisco Peaks. "The gathering brought together people with different beliefs and different ways--and this issue should concern every person of the Navajo Nation. We should have had a bigger crowd. The Navajo people should add their input."
Hatathlie added that he believed that at the next court meeting in San Francisco, Navajos should take the time to attend.
"Like Lenore said, a lot of people were not aware of what was taking place [on the Peaks]," Hatathlie said.
Organizations like the Sierra Club, Youth of the Peaks, the Black Mesa Water Coalition and others were invited to educate people about the dangers of using reclaimed water on the peaks.
Robert Tohe, Navajo, represents the Flagstaff office of the Sierra Club's environmental justice effort, spoke highly of the research of Dr. Paul Torrence, a professor at Northern Arizona University.
"As part of the general assembly on Saturday, Dr. Torrence gave a presentation on the effects of reclaimed water and what it would introduce into the environment and on the mountain," Tohe said. "His presentation was translated in detail into the Navajo language so that Navajo-speaking listeners could understand what reclaimed water would do. This gave a better understanding to Azee' Bee Nahagha board members.
"This was the largest spiritual gathering to take place near the mountain since the Forest Service released the proposal to expand the Snowbowl and to use reclaimed water there was released," Tohe added.
He said that he was pleased with the gathering, saying that it was an example of how grass roots groups are involving themselves in this issue.
"It is gratifying to see how people are voicing their concerns about this issue," Tohe said. "Grass roots groups are taking an initiative here--it is an example of how the issue has spread to these groups as a whole."
Other individuals who helped plan and organize the event included Floyd Stevens, Andrew Tso, Richard Monroe, Mary Lou Nells, Albert Nells and Gary and Elsie Elthie. Many more individuals added their talent and support for this historic event.
Sponsors of the event included Districts 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 10 and 18 of the Azee' Bee Nahagha of DinŽ Nation organization, the Native American Church Aneth Extension, Office of the President of the Navajo Nation, the LeChee Sweat Boys, Thomas Walker Jr., Youth of the Peaks, Coal Mine Chapter, Native Movement, ECHOES, the San Juan Southern Paiute Tribal executive officers and staff, the Yavapai-Apache Nation, the Sierra Club and Black Mesa Water Coalition to name a few.
Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, who spent most of the weekend in New York at a meeting of the United Nations, returned to Flagstaff to attend the event.
"It was very important to him that he be here," Lenora Hatathlie said.
High winds on Saturday night caused damage to a tipi belonging to Tony and Bertha Yellowhair, however some did not take this as a negative sign.
"I talked to Tony, who had a positive spin to this," Hatathlie said. "He told me that we know our prayers were answered because of this powerful sign."
As to whether there will be a second spiritual gathering, Hatathlie said that it depends on the outcome in the appeals court.
"Of course if we win, we will want to hold a celebratory ceremony," Hatathlie said.
Coordinator Floyd Stevens thanked everyone involved for their help and attendance at this successful event, and said that he believed the message and purpose of the gathering was well received.
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