FLAGSTAFF, AZ — Klee Benally, Dine’ (Navajo), was ordered by Coconino Justice Court Judge Howard Grodman to perform community service as consequence to his prayerful act of resistance to desecration of the Holy San Francisco Peaks.
Klee took action on August 13, 2011 to address Arizona Snowbowl ski area’s clear-cutting of 74 acres of rare alpine forest and the laying of 14.8 miles of a waste water pipeline in furtherance of a US Forest Service and City of Flagstaff supported project to spray artificial snow made of wastewater effluent on the Peaks, which are held holy by more than 13 Indigenous Nations.
The state prosecutor was seeking 12 months probation, restrictions barring Klee from going onto Snowbowl road, and community service. Defense attorney, Matt Brown of Brown & Little, P.L.C., argued on Klee’s behalf.
During the sentencing hearing Klee responded expressing that restricting his ability to go onto the Peaks, including Snowbowl road, would place an “undue burden” on his religious freedom.
Judge Grodman stated, “I think that your motivations for protesting were genuine and heartfelt,” he then offered the option for Klee to do community service in assisting with a Northern Arizona University class called “Investigating Human Rights.”
“If you would be willing to participate in that class, assist in that class, I think you’d have a lot to offer the students, that would be the entirety of my sentence,” stated judge Grodman.
When issuing his sentence, the judge expressed that he was unaware until recently, that Klee had made the documentary, “The Snowbowl Effect.” Judge Grodman stated that he had used the film in a class he taught years ago.
Klee was also ordered to pay restitution to Arizona Snowbowl in the amount of $99.24 for construction worker’s wages Snowbowl claims we’re “lost” due to Klee’s prayerful action.
“How can I be ‘trespassing’ on this site that is so sacred to me? This is my church. It is the Forest Service and Snowbowl who are violating human rights and religious freedom by desecrating this holy Mountain…” said Klee in a previous statement, “Their actions are far beyond ‘disorderly’.”
“This experience has shed light on what my ancestors, and all those who have gone before me in the struggle for justice and dignity, have faced. This experience cannot be isolated from the larger context of 500 years of colonial aggression. Our ways of life are being attacked by this ‘justice’ system, the Forest Service, and by those who value money more than life and ecological integrity.”
“Indigenous Peoples in the United States have no guaranteed protection for our religious freedom. When our spirituality and cultural survival is threatened, what choice do we have but to take a stand? If Congress and the Obama administration don’t take immediate action to address this critical issue, more and more people will put their bodies in front of Snowbowl’s destructive machinery.” stated Klee.
In August 2011, The Havasupai Tribe, Klee Benally, and the International Indian Treaty Council, filed an Urgent Action / Early Warning Complaint with the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), on the desecration of the Sacred San Francisco Peaks. CERD Chairperson Alexei Avtonomov responded to the complaint with a letter to the U.S. in March 2012, “The Committee requests information on concrete measures taken to ensure that the sacred character of [the San Francisco Peaks] for indigenous peoples are respected, including the possibility of suspending the permit granted to the Arizona Snowbowl, to further consult with indigenous peoples and take into account their concerns and religious traditions.”
Since June 16, 2011, nearly 30 people have been arrested during protests or other actions addressing Snowbowl desecration and eco-cide on the Holy Peaks. Most have taken deals offered by state prosecutors which have resulted primarily in community service, with about 8 cases still pending.
In a previous statement Klee affirmed, “The struggle to protect Dooko’osliid (San Francisco Peaks) continues, we must defend our ways of life and the natural law. As long as our hearts beat with an understanding that our actions are for future generations and cultural survival, then this struggle is not over.”