Navajo Nation President ‘We’ve Got to Stop the Construction’
FLAGSTAFF, AZ — Local environmental justice organizations, Tribal representatives, and members of Flagstaff community held a media conference on Saturday, May 28 to address threats of Arizona Snowbowl’s ski expansion development and current construction of wastewater pipeline for snowmaking.
Standing at the base of the Holy San Francisco Peaks, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly stated, “We’ve got to stop the construction.” President Shelly affirmed his commitment to protecting the Peaks and urged for greater protection of all sacred sites, “We need to make a law… we need larger organizations to protect these mountains.”
Kelvin Long, director of ECHOES stated, “We’re going to protect our mountain, we’re not going to allow snowmaking to happen.”
Howard Shanker, attorney for the Save the Peaks Coalition and other plaintiffs stated, “Native American’s don’t have first amendment rights when it comes to federal land use decisions. For our federal government to be involved in the desecration of a sacred and holy site that is so important to so many people, for the economic benefit of so few is a tragedy. All people of conscience should be involved in this process, should be fighting this process and should step up and say wait a minute this isn’t right.”
“Snowbowl is proceeding at their own risk, when we prevail in court they’re going to have to take the pipes out of the ground.
The federal government is doing everything it can to make sure snowbowl has a consistent ski season even though they’re attempting to use reclaimed sewer water, which scientifically is not proven safe.” Shanker said.
The wastewater, which would be purchased through contract from the City of Flagstaff, has been proven by biologists to contain harmful contaminants such as pharmaceuticals and hormones. In their Environmental Impact Statement the Forest Service did not consider the impact of ingesting waste water in the form of artificial snow or from the storage pond by humans and animals.
This point is the basis of the Save the Peaks Coalition’s current lawsuit which is currently appealing a District Court decision in favor of Snowbowl’s proposed actions.
Thomas Walker, former Navajo Nation Tribal Council Delegate stated, “The Navajo Nation has historically been opposed to any kind of development on the San Francisco Peaks… this mountain is not to be desecrated.”
Steve Darden of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission and former Flagstaff City Council member sent a message to the youth, “In our Hogans and sweat lodges we are offering our prayers, were relying on you young ones to step up.”
Jihan Gearon of the Indigenous Environmental Network connected her organization’s work to stop the Tar Sands in Canada to Snowbowl’s wasetwater pipeline, “The Tar Sands are the largest industrial project ever in the entire world… pipelines break and pipelines spill, I can pretty much guarantee that they are never safe. Not only us, but everyone if Flagstaff needs to be made aware of. The construction happening on the mountain now is a wake-up call.”
Clayson Benally, a member of the Save the Peaks Coalition and plaintiff in the current suit against the Forest Service stated, “Our youth and our children will potentially be impacted by this snow. This is all for the profit of one business thats outside of city limits that doesn’t pay into the tax base of Flagstaff. They put economic profit over our health, over our own community’s health and well being, that goes too far.”
“This is a pre-emptive strike from Snowbowl… when we win in court what are they going to do?” stated Benally.
Earlier in the day 40 people, including Winifred Bessie Jumbo the current Miss Navajo, gathered in prayer on the San Francisco Peaks. Before and during the prayers, more than a half-dozen armed law enforcement agents from Coconino County Sheriffs and the Forest Service monitored the gathering and patrolled the area.
For more than a dozen years Indigenous Nations, environmental activists, and concerned community members have worked together to protect the holy site and surrounding area from further ecological destruction, public health threats, and spiritual desecration.
Arizona Snowbowl’s development plans include clear-cutting 74 acres of rare alpine habitat that is home to threatened species, making new runs and lifts, adding more parking lots and building a 14.8 mile buried pipeline to transport up to 180 million gallons (per season) of wastewater to make artificial snow on 205 acres.
The Peaks are central to the ways of life of more than 13 Indigenous Nations.