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Save the Peaks Coalition News Release: Supreme Court Affirms Tribes Have No Religious Rights




June 6th, 2009

Supreme Court Affirms Tribes Have No Religious Rights,

Tribes and others Call For Congressional Action to Protect Sacred Places

Flagstaff, AZ — On Monday, June 8th 2009, the Supreme Court denied the petition by Tribes & Environmental groups to hear the case to protect the holy San Francisco Peaks.

For nearly a decade, the Save the Peaks Coalition, Tribes, Environmental groups, and community members lead an effort to stop the Snowbowl ski area’s plan to expand it’s development on the Peaks, and make snow from treated sewage effluent. The ski resort operates on the Holy Mountain through a lease by the United States Forest Service, which sanctioned the proposed development in 2004.

This is the second time that a petition for the protection of the San Francisco Peaks has been denied by the Supreme Court.

According to Howard Shanker, attorney for the Navajo Nation, the Havasupai Tribe, the Yavapai-Apache Nation, the White Mountain Apache Tribe, Flagstaff Activist Network, the Center for Biological Diversity and others, and former congressional candidate: “It is unfortunate that the Supreme Court denied our petition for certiorari.  The Court’s denial serves to perpetuate injustice and the application of bad law regarding the rights of Native Americans to protect sacred and holy sites.  It is, however safe to say that as long as the San Francisco Peaks remain, there will be people willing to continue the struggle to protect the Peaks and to honor the beliefs and cultures of those peoples who hold them sacred.”

“The Supreme Court’s denial of certiorari in the Navajo Nation case is unfortunate to say the least.” Stated Jack Trope of the Association on American Indian Affairs who is working together with DNA Legal Services, representing the Hualapai Tribe, Navajo medicine practitioner Norris Nez and Hopi spiritual practitioner Bill Preston. “It means that the San Francisco Peaks, sacred to so many tribes, will continue to be at great risk from the development approved by the Forest Service that allows treated sewage water to be used for snowmaking.   It also means that the Ninth Circuit’s narrow interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) – an interpretation which in practice will make that law virtually unavailable to protect sacred lands in the states covered by the Ninth Circuit – will stand.”

According to the previous ruling of the en banc panel of the 9th Circuit, “the only effect of the proposed upgrades is on the Plaintiffs’ subjective, emotional religious experience. That is, the presence of recycled wastewater on the Peaks is offensive to the Plaintiffs’ religious sensibilities…the diminishment of spiritual fulfillment – serious though it may be – is not a ‘substantial burden’ on the free exercise of religion.” The Court dismissed Plaintiffs’ religious beliefs as calling them mere “damaged spiritual feelings.”  Regrettably, the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case leaves the en banc panel’s decision in place as the law in the Ninth Circuit.

“The Navajo Nation cannot express enough disappointment and disapproval.” Said Navajo Nation Council Speaker Lawrence T. Morgan.  “Navajo people understand Dook’o’ooslid, the San Francisco Peaks, to be a significant relative that we attribute value, concern and meaning to as anyone else would to a mother, father or grandparent. It is very unfortunate that our non-native relatives do not realize the seriousness of their decisions.”

Don Watahomigie, Chairman of the Havasupai Tribe stated, “Where do native people stand now in relation to our govt to govt relationship with the federal govt when laws passed like RFRA, airfa and NAGPRA don’t hold water? If this goes on this will be a precedent for other developments to start on other spiritual sacred lands anywhere in the country. I call on other tribal leaders to work together to find a way to create laws to hold water and protect the sacred.”

“The Supreme Court, the Forest Service, and the Flagstaff City Council have all failed us.” Stated Jeneda Benally of the Save the Peaks Coalition.  “In this day and age, we are still denied our basic civil and human rights by the U.S. government. We have no guarantee for the protection of our religious freedom. This case was important to insure religious freedom in the United States of America. Our own courts have failed the American people once again.”

“This is nothing new. The Supreme Court is deflecting its responsibilities toward indigenous people all over the country.” Stated Carly Long, President of the Board of Directors of the Flagstaff Activist Network, a plaintiff in the case. “Indigenous people and their allies need to stand up in the wake of this injustice and demand more from the US government. It is high time Congress stepped in with legislation to protect Native rights and sacred sites.”

“This is a setback, but it is not the end. The Obama Administration still has the authority to stop this development and develop policies to ensure that future decisions are more respectful of sacred sites.” stated Jack F. Trope, Executive Director, Association on American Indian Affairs. “Moreover, other circuits like the Tenth Circuit have interpreted RFRA more broadly and efforts to use that law to protect other sacred places will continue.   Finally, the struggle over the San Francisco Peaks and the failure of RFRA to protect this sacred place ought to send the message to Congress that it is time for the lawmakers to approve legislation that would strengthen applicable law so that it will better protect Native American sacred places across the country.”

“As one of the plaintiffs in this case, I talk with Hopi elders, they have been telling me that they are tired of white men making decisions without coming to Hopi to tell us.” Stated Bucky Preston, a Hopi spiritual runner and plaintiff in the case. “A government is run by human beings and we are not above one another as humans. We are all equal. If we want good lives, consultation should be humans coming together by consensus. This is the Hopi way and this has never happened. We need to respect life and this can’t be done with this kind of consultation. True consultation has yet to be seen at Hopi. I remember that Obama told the Crow people that he would be thinking of Indian People every day. I point to him now and call upon him to come to Hopi in true consultation to resolve this matter with the true Hopi elders from our villages.” Stated Bucky Preston.

“This case goes far beyond the interests of a single for-profit private business. Our traditional cultural teachings compel us to continue to fight Snowbowl’s attempts at expansion and snowmaking with treated sewage on this Holy Mountain.” Stated Klee Benally of the Save the Peaks Coalition. “We will continue our work to protect the sensitive mountain ecosystem and public health. Our way of life is in peril. We will continue to pray and struggle to safeguard mother earth for our cultural survival.

Navajo Nation Speaker Lawrence T. Morgan stated, “If we stop here, we are short changing ourselves, we have to stand our ground and continue the fight for the protection of our sacred sites,” he added. “We cannot allow the flood gates to open even further. It is extremely important to seek all means of legal remedies, these decisions will impact future generations, it is imperative that we seek a decision in our favor.”

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  1. terrance cruz

    December 20, 2009 at 8:38 PM

    Indigenous people’s Civil Rights are being violated every day. I’m experiencing injustice at the hands of three courts involving simple custody issues where government intervention is not warranted, invited or necessary. Our Tribal social services refused to get involved at the counties request, based on the fact that intervention wasn’t deemed necessary. Eventually, the county admitted to having initiated a case “improvidently.” Nevertheless, it violated a Congressional Act. Namely, the National Indian Rights Protection Act. Investigations have been made by agencies and authorities based on malicious, slanderous, and prejudicial comments exaggerrated to gain an advantageous position against the custodial parent in proceedings where the presiding judge wouldn’t agree to further amendments to visitation arrangements; prompting desperation and haste from the other parent. Whom through application of different venues (i.e. county to state-to a differing state) attempted to “backdoor” me. Which led to false allegations of threats, further proceedings, biased rulings. Do courts effectually make orders only to propagate their own interests?.. is every one in the “Justice” system interested in adopting this crisis mentality?, with court appointed advocates, falsely incarcerating people on bogus charges, requiring attendance in remedial elementary weak , beggardly parenting classes ,culturally insensitive, emotionally taxing , economically demeaning. it goes on and on. At present I have no money for representation. Our tribe has no legal dept. and I actually have no one to turn to for assistance with motions in court to remedy this situation. I continue with limited support from our community and family . As many people roll over to appease, alieve the circumstances the legal community brings upon them lengthy continuations, dragging their feet in almost every situation , hurting the people they claim to be trying to help our children! Really they need to step out of the picture and leave us alone.

  2. Latrisha Frohwein

    July 12, 2012 at 8:10 AM

    Another thing I have noticed is that often for many people, less-than-perfect credit is the results of circumstances over and above their control. For example they may are already saddled with illness so that they have excessive bills for collections. It can be due to a employment loss and the inability to go to work. Sometimes breakup can send the budget in the undesired direction. Many thanks for sharing your opinions on this website.

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Ox Sam Camp Update: Land Defenders Arrested, Camp Raided After Blocking Excavator




From (follow for more updates).

Read the new press release from 6/8/23 here:

First arrests are underway and camp is being raided after land defenders halted an excavator this morning at Thacker Pass.

OROVADA, NV — This morning, a group of Native American water protectors and allies used their bodies to non-violently block construction of the controversial Thacker Pass lithium mine in Nevada, turning back bulldozers and heavy equipment.

The dramatic scene unfolded this morning as workers attempting to dig trenches near Sentinel Rock were turned back by land defenders who ran and put their bodies between heavy equipment and the land.

Now they are being arrested and camp is being raided.

Northern Paiute and Western Shoshone people consider Thacker Pass to be sacred. So when they learned that the area was slated to become the biggest open-pit lithium mine in North America, they filed lawsuits, organized rallies, spoke at regulatory hearings, and organized in the community. But despite all efforts over the last three years, construction of the mine began in March.

That’s what led Native American elders, friends and family, water protectors, and their allies to establish what they call a “prayer camp and ceremonial fire” at Thacker Pass on May 11th, when they setup a tipi at dawn blocking construction of a water pipeline for the mine. A second tipi was erected several days later two miles east, where Lithium Nevada’s construction is defacing Sentinel Rock, one of their most important sacred sites.

Sentinel Rock is integral to many Nevada Tribes’ worldview and ceremony. The area was the site of two massacres of Paiute and Shoshone people. The first was an inter-tribal conflict that gave the area it’s Paiute name: Peehee Mu’huh, or rotten moon. The second was a surprise attack by the US Cavalry on September 12th, 1865, during which the US Army slaughtered dozens. One of the only survivors of the attack was a man named Ox Sam. It is some of Ox Sam’s descendants, the Grandmas, that formed Ox Sam Newe Momokonee Nokotun (Indigenous Women’s Camp) to protect this sacred land for the unborn, to honor and protect the remains of their ancestors, and to conduct ceremonies. Water protectors have been on-site in prayer for nearly a month.

On Monday, Lithium Nevada Corporation also attempted to breach the space occupied by the water protectors. As workers maneuvered trenching equipment into a valley between the two tipis, water protectors approached the attempted work site and peacefully forced workers and their excavator to back up and leave the area. According to one anonymous land defender, Lithium Nevada’s action was “an attempted show of force to fully do away with our tipi and prayer camp around Sentinel Rock.”

Ranchers, recreationists, and members of the public have been allowed to pass without incident and water protectors maintain friendly relationships with locals. Opposition to the mine is widespread in the area, and despite repeated warnings from the local Sheriff, there have been no arrests. Four people, including Dorece Sam Antonio of the Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe (an Ox sam descendant) and Max Wilbert of Protect Thacker Pass, have been targeted by court orders barring them from the area. They await a court hearing in Humboldt County Justice Court.

“Lithium Nevada is fencing around the sacred site Sentinel Rock to disrupt our access and yesterday was an escalation to justify removal of our peaceful prayer camps,” said one anonymous water protector at Ox Sam Camp. “Lithium Nevada intends to desecrate and bulldoze the remains of the ancestors here. We are calling out to all water protectors, land defenders, attorneys, human rights experts, and representatives of Tribal Nations to come and stand with us.”

“I’m being threatened with arrest for protecting the graves of my ancestors,” says Dorece Sam Antonio. “My great-great Grandfather Ox Sam was one of the survivors of the 1865 Thacker Pass massacre that took place here. His family was killed right here as they ran away from the U.S. Army. They were never buried. They’re still here. And now these bulldozers are tearing up this place.”

Another spiritual leader on the front lines has been Dean Barlese, a spiritual leader from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. Despite being confined to a wheelchair, Barlese led prayers at the site on April 25th (shutting down construction for a day) and returned on May 11th.

“I’m asking people to come to Peehee Mu’huh,” Barlese said. “We need more prayerful people. I’m here because I have connections to these places. My great-great-great grandfathers fought and shed blood in these lands. We’re defending the sacred. Water is sacred. Without water, there is no life. And one day, you’ll find out you can’t eat money.”

The 1865 Thacker Pass massacre is well documented in historical sources, books, newspapers, and oral histories. Despite the evidence but unsurprisingly, the Federal Government has not protected Thacker Pass or even slowed construction of the mine to allow for consultation to take place with Tribes. In late February, the Federal Government recognized tribal arguments that Thacker Pass is a “Traditional Cultural District” eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. But that didn’t stop construction from commencing.

“This is not a protest, it’s a prayer,” said Barlese. “But they’re still scared of me. They’re scared of all of us elders, because they know we’re right and they’re wrong.”

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O’odham Executed by Border Patrol: Statement by Raymond Mattia Family




Raymond Mattia of the Tohono O’odham Nation was executed by US border patrol agents on May 18th at his home. He was reportedly shot 38 times.

A peaceful gathering to support all victims of the
unmonitored violent actions of the Border Patrol and other agencies will be held at The Border
Patrol Station in Why, Az, and Tucson on Golf Links Road this Saturday, May 27th, from

For more information please visit:

Statement by Mattia Raymond’s family:

We have been trying to find the strength to write this statement. This tragedy is so
grievous because it is apparent what had happened. Raymond called for help and, in turn, was
shot down at his doorstep. Raymond’s rights were violated by the authorities whom we trust to
protect our Nation. Improper and unprofessional actions of the agencies involved were witnessed
by family members present near the crime scene. Loved ones sat in agony, not knowing of
Raymond’s condition until they were told that he had passed hours later. Raymond lay in front of
his home for seven hours before a coroner from Tucson arrived.
In our eyes and hearts, we believe that Raymond was approached with excessive and
deadly force that took his life. He was a father, brother, uncle, friend, and an involved
community member. Raymond always fought for what was right, and he will continue to fight
even after his death. This is not an isolated incident, but it should bring awareness of the
oppression our people live through.
We want to thank so many of you for your condolences and support. A GoFundMe for
defense funds will be available soon. A peaceful gathering to support all victims of the
unmonitored violent actions of the Border Patrol and other agencies will be held at The Border Patrol Station in Why, Az, and Tucson on Golf Links Road this Saturday, May 27th, from 10:00am-Noon.

Contact for support:

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People Take the Streets in Occupied Flagstaff to “Honor & Avenge” #MMIWG2ST




Brief report back filed by anonymous.

Occupied Kinłani, May 5, 2023 — Tonight a fierce crew held a vigil and rally then took to the streets of occupied Flagstaff on the national day of awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, two-spirit, and trans relatives. Family members and friends of Arielisa Bryant & Nicole Joe spoke about the injustices they had faced at the hands of law enforcement. Others shared their stories with five families speaking out about their missing or murdered relatives. Speakers connected the desecration of sacred sites as violence against the land being violence against our bodies. After a moment of silence (which was turned into a moment of rage), the group headed through the crowded streets. Intersections were held. A round dance was done. Chants echoed, “No More Stolen Sisters!” “No Justice No Peace, Fuck the Police!” and “Who keeps us safe? We keep us safe!” while relatives of MMIWG2ST spoke. At one point the group stopped near where Vanessa Lee was found (2018) and created a memorial. After the action, the massive red dress banner that was carried through the streets was dropped.

This action came as U.S. Secretary of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland prepares to hold a “Not Invisible Act Commission” hearing in Flagstaff on May 9th at a so far unannounced location with little community outreach. The commission is filled with cops, judges, and politicians who seek to further colonial policing and laws over Indigenous lands. Haaland is also complicit in allowing the Willow Project to proceed which furthers resource colonial violence that is directly linked to #MMIWG2ST.

A 2017 study from the Urban Indian Health Institute found that so-called Arizona has the third-highest number of #MMIWG2ST in the country.

That study reported a total of 506 known cases in 71 urban cities across the country and 54 cases were identified in Arizona.

In memory:

Ariel Bryant, found deceased 2019 outside of Kinłani.

Vanessa Lee, found deceased 2018 in the Rio De Flag downtown Kinłani.

Nicole Joe, deceased on christmas day 2017, her ex was ultimately found guilty of second degree murder.

Loreal Tsingine, shot in 2016 five times by Winslow police officer Austin Shipley.

And all those missing and murdered relatives!

As you rest in power, we will rage!

#mmiw#mmiwg2st #mmir #mmip

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