News Release: Peaks Supporters Face Federal Charges in ‘Politically Motivated Attack’
Forest Service attempts to ‘Ban’ Peaks Activists from the Peaks to Prevent Further Protests
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Forest Service attempts to ‘Ban’ them from the Peaks to Prevent Further Protests
Note to editors: Video of September 21, 2012 protest available upon request.
FLAGSTAFF, AZ — On December 11, 2012 three Peaks activists peacefully turned themselves over to U.S. Marshalls in response to allegations of federal charges and “sealed” warrants resulting from a civil protest at a Forest Service building on September 21, 2012.
“It is obvious why these court documents were sealed, the Forest Service wanted to arrest and make an example out of us to deter further protests for protection of the Holy San Francisco Peaks.” stated Klee Benally a Dine’ (Navajo) activist. Benally has been advocating for Indigenous religious freedom and protection of the holy Peaks for more than 14 years, “This is a politically motivated attack that was clearly timed to send a message to anyone who cares about the Peaks from protesting Snowbowl snowmaking with treated sewage effluent.”
Benally declared to a crowd of supporters at the Marshall’s office, “The Forest Service lied in the Environmental Impact Statement, they lied in court, they are lying about these charges, and they are lying about their sacred sites policy. We are being arrested today because we are not afraid to stand up and speak the truth!”
The three Peaks activists were kept in shackles around their waists, hands and feet and caged for nearly 5 hours while waiting to appear before a judge. While in custody, plain clothed U.S. Forest Service agents attempted to individually interrogate the Peaks activists without lawyers present.
Forest Service law enforcement captain John Nelson was the only Forest Service representative in the courtroom. Nelson has a history of intimidating and harassing Peaks supporters and traditional practitioners engaged in prayer on the Peaks.
“It seems clear to me,” Benally stated, that the Forest Service is seeking to suppress any further possibility of us speaking the truth for religious freedom and protection of the holy San Francisco Peaks.”
The prosecutor repeatedly requested that the judge “ban” the activists from going on the San Francisco Peaks and to any Coconino Forest Service building as a condition of their release. During the arraignment, the federal prosecutor continually stated that he was concerned about the possibility of further protests.
Attorney Matthew Brown argued that Benally’s religious practice was directly connected to the San Francisco Peaks and restricting his access to the Holy Mountain would be akin to preventing him from going to church. The judge agreed not to ban Benally from the Peaks but cautioned him that if he broke any laws he would be immediately imprisoned until trial. Even a wrongful arrest on USFS lands would be grounds for imprisonment until trial.
The three Peaks supporters were released just after 2:30 p.m.. They re-joined the group of supporters and held a banner stating, “Protect Sacred Sites, Defend Human Rights.”
A status hearing for the Peaks activists will be held on December 27, 2012 at 10:00 a.m. at the Flagstaff Federal Courthouse. A date for a bench trial is expected to be set then.
The four protestors are facing multiple counts (Section 261.3a) of a misdemeanor charge for allegedly interfering with a Forest officer. The statute reads, “Threatening, resisting, intimidating, or interfering with any forest officer engaged in or on account of the performance of his official duties in the protection, improvement, or administration of the National Forest System is prohibited.”
“Not only are these federal charges absurd, they are an attack on freedom of expression,” stated Benally, “The fact that the USFS would bring these charges the same day they released their report on the protection of sacred sites demonstrates that they are not acting in good faith.”
“The final report on Sacred Sites repeatedly points directly at Coconino National Forest and Secretary Vilsack’s callous handling and subsequent approval of using treated sewage effluent to make snow at Arizona Snowbowl.” stated Rudy Preston, a citizen of Flagstaff. He continues his statement “it was the single most detrimental action to their ability to even be taken seriously while doing public outreach to create the report. I feel like the timing of these arrests had two goals in mind: the first was to ban effective activists from Snowbowl as the resort begins to make poop snow, and the second was to thumb their noses at the Sacred Sites report and say, ‘this is how we do it in the Coconino and we don’t care if you want to make good relations with Indigenous cultures.’ Even the Snowbowl Record of Decision clearly states ‘this project will likely have a disproportionately adverse effect on affected Native Americans (p.32)’ and additionally states that the no action alternative ‘is the environmentally preferable alternative because it would not have approved any of the physical, cultural or biological impacts that are anticipated under the implementation of Alternative 3 (snowmaking and expansion, p.33).'”
Peaks supporters have stated that they are undeterred from this attack on their freedom to express themselves and will continue their efforts to protect the holy San Francisco Peaks.
“The natural laws and the indigenous people were already here in a good relationship before the coming of the colonial society who draws law and boundaries.” stated Big Mountain resister Louise Benally who was outside the courthouse offering support, “However we Indigenous Peoples will always have ties with these lands, we will continue to live that way with nature and we will carry on. These man-made laws by the U.S. government will vanish soon.”
Previous News Release & Forest Service Report here: http://www.indigenousaction.
More info: www.ProtectthePeaks.org