Friday, October 10, 2008

Verse 8 - Whose religion is valid?

The sun was low and distinct strands reached out to the earth at the San Francisco Peaks part of the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, Arizona. The feeling of solemn humbleness grew in me as I felt my small self blend into the greater landscape. I don't have the history or teachings about this landscape embedded inside of me but I could feel its amazing presence. I could feel that this place is a source of strength and no wonder 13 different tribes hold it to be holy and 22 tribal nations consider it culturally significant.

Earlier in the afternoon Women's Earth Alliance (WEA) visited the Save the Peaks Coalition volunteers, Jeneda Benally and Rachel Tso.

The history of the struggle at the Peaks is long. A ski area was built there in the 30's and then in 1979 was expanded significantly against protest and lawsuits (Wilson v. Block).

Save the Peaks formed in 2004 to protect cultural and spiritual rights and is now fighting a new challenge.
The courts recently approved the use of reclaimed sewer water to be used to make snow for skiing on the Peaks. You don't have to be an extremely bright bulb to figure that skiing on sewage water is not a cool idea. As Rachel Tso pointed out in our meeting, no one falls, no one eats snow while they ski, no one scoops snow up in their water bottle for drinking, right?

The Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort plans to clear cut 74 acres of forest to add additional ski lifts, create a 14 mile pipeline up to the San Francisco peaks to a 10 million gallon pond where fake snow will be made out of the waste water. As we all know, anything that goes into a toilet ends up in waste water. That's not a very nice thought. There is also a catchment pond at the bottom of the ski area which will only keep a small percentage of the waste water from getting into the water table.
Rachel TsoJeneda Benally

Aside from the obvious reasons for why you might not want sewer water on an area where people ski, there are culturual and spiritual reasons for the many tribes that hold the peaks sacred. For example, the Navajo use the area for gathering medicinal herbs which are used in healing ceremonies and there is concern about not only the health aspect of the herbs but the a question spiritual integrity of contaminated medicine bundles that are used for reviving health and the spirit.

In our meeting Jeneda touched all of our hearts with her eloquence, I 'll leave you with her powerful words about the courts ruling and what that means to her. Bear in mind the battle is not over, there are plans to take this ruling to the Supreme Court.
"This last court decision for us, told us that our cultural belief, our spiritual belief is not a valid religion. It's subjective spiritual feelings. For traditional people, who have grown up with our identity and who carry on these ways of life, since the beginning of time and want to ensure that our children have these spiritual connections as well, to be told that your ways of life, your culture, is a spiritual subjective feeling is one of the most painful, painful feelings that I think anybody could ever feel, is to be told that your culture is not valid. What you believe, what your ancestors have fought for, what they've carried on, what they've died for is not valid."

Check out this great film, "The Snowbowl Effect":

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