President Shirley expresses disappointment over reversal of San Francisco Peaks ruling
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr., last Friday expressed disappointment about the en banc Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals' reversal of the court's earlier decision to prevent desecration of Dook'o'osliid but said the Navajo Nation would consider appealing the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"The Navajo people are trying to do everything we can to save self, and the Peaks is one of our strengths," President Shirley said. "When you contaminate it with reclaimed wastewater, with filth, to make snow, that doesn't help Native people's way of life. To Native people, there are no compromises to saving self. When our ceremonies go, and when our herbs go, there are no compromises left to be made."
President Shirley said the decision hurts all Native people to see their ways of life and sacred places done away with for money.
"There are plenty of other ways to make money besides putting filthy water on a sacred place," he said.
In its Aug. 8, 100-page decision, the Court found that "the sole effect of the artificial snow is on the Plaintiff's subjective spiritual experience. That is, the presence of the artificial snow on the Peaks is offensive to the Plaintiffs' feelings about their religion and will decrease the spiritual fulfillment Plaintiffs get from practicing their religion on the mountain."
However, a dissent authored by Judge William Fletcher agreed with the principal point the tribes made to the Court.
"The majority's misunderstanding of the nature of religious beliefs and exercise as merely 'subjective' is an excuse for refusing to accept the Indians' religion as worthy of protection under (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act)," he wrote.
"The majority (of the Court) holds that spraying 1.5 million gallons per day of treated sewage effluent on the most sacred mountain of southwestern Indian tribes does not 'substantially burden' their 'exercise of religion,'" Judge Fletcher wrote. "In holding so, the majority misstates the evidence, misstates the law under RFRA, and misunderstands the very nature of religion."
President Shirley said that this decision is one more example of federal decisions chipping away at Native American cultures and ways-of-life.
"We witness the erosion of our way of life and our culture daily with the continual encroachment of the dominant society into our homeland," he said. "Again, with this decision, the federal government misses an opportunity to help us continue with our way of life in order to benefit skiers and developers."
"The Navajo people will continue to pray," he said. We will pray that this decision is reversed by the Supreme Court. Our prayers will continue to go up to the Creator. We will pray for our sacred places, for our sacred ways of life, and for the preservation of our culture."
Yavapai Apache Nation disheartened by Ninth Circuit Court ruling
CAMP VERDE, Ariz. - After an extensive legal battle to protect culture, religion and the environment, Arizona tribes lost one of the most important battles in recent history.
On Aug. 8, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision to permit the Arizona Snowbowl to manufacture artificial snow using reclaimed wastewater on the San Francisco Peaks.
The ruling was issued despite the Yavapai-Apache Nation and other Arizona tribes' pleas with the United States to protect the Peaks from cultural, spiritual and religious desecration.
Thomas Beauty, Chairman of the Yavapai-Apache Nation said, "This is one of the most tragic moments in recent history for Arizona tribes. The United States court system supports the desecration of a cultural and religious location and has not only disregarded the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and other environmental issues, but has totally abandoned the [U.S.] trust commitment and responsibility to Indian tribes."
Over the past several years, the Yavapai-Apache Nation and other tribes including the Navajo Nation, Hopi, Havasupai, Hualapai and the White Mountain Apache Tribes have expressed concern that the approval of plans to use reclaimed wastewater to manufacture artificial snow is significant violation to tribal spiritual beliefs, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA) and the ecological integrity of the Peaks. The recent judgment of the Ninth Circuit Court demonstrates that religion and the environment are secondary to development and tourism.
In March 2007, the Arizona tribes were victorious in a ruling by the Court when the Court issued a decision to protect the sacred San Francisco Peaks from the U.S. Forest Service's approval for the Arizona Snowbowl's plan to expand its 777-acre facility and implement the use of treated sewage to make artificial snow. The ruling noted that the Forest Service's approval of the proposed expansion and use of treated sewage to make artificial snow violated the RFRA and lacks the Forest Service's obligation to fully comply with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) standards.
"To the Yavapai-Apache Nation, the Peaks are referred to as Dzil-cho and A'Wiih Moonih. The holy mountain has significant spiritual and cultural values. It is the home of our Gaan (deities), northern foundation of our world, place where our prayers are emanated to God, and because of its power the medicinal herbs gathered there are more powerful. To desecrate this holy place with water that contains the presence of human and veterinary antibiotics, caffeine, codeine, oral contraceptives and other hormones, steroids, solvents, etc. is an affront to the holy Creator. One judge's concern in the previous ruling was that young children could potentially consume the artificial snow containing the treated waste bi-products. This decision totally disregards our future, which is our children and their health. It is a shame that the dollar prevails," Vincent Randall, former Chairman of the Yavapai-Apache Nation, stated.
Judge Carlos Bea, Circuit Judge for the majority issued the following statement, "A government action which decreases the spirituality, the fervor, or the satisfaction with which a believer practices his religion is not what Congress has labeled a 'substantial burden' - a term of art chosen by Congress to be defined by reference to Supreme Court precedent."
Chairman Beauty stated, "The Yavapai-Apache Nation has never given up on its attempt to maintain its sovereignty, protect tribal lands or ensure that the United States uphold its trust obligations to Indian tribes. While this is a very disappointing ruling for Arizona tribes, I am confident that we will all work towards the protection of our holy and religious sites."
For additional information on the Yavapai-Apache Nation, please contact the Office of Public Relations at (928) 567-1006.