6/17/2011 Gallup Independent: 6 pinched at Snowbowl protest By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau Gallup Independent: WINDOW ROCK – Six protesters were arrested Thursday in what has become a continuing battle over the sanctity of the San Francisco Peaks vs. economic development at the Arizona Snowbowl near Flagstaff. “Today we take direct action to stop further desecration and destruction of the holy San Francisco Peaks. We stand with our ancestors, with allies, and with those who also choose to embrace diverse tactics to safeguard indigenous people’s cultural survival, our community’s health, and this sensitive mountain ecosystem,” activists stated in a press release timed to coincide with the early morning protest. Eric Borowsky, general partner in the Snowbowl, was out of town when the protest occurred but said later that he had been kept informed about “the illegal actions by a small group of protesters who have been arrested.”
Two individuals chained themselves to a piece of heavy equipment which was being used in the construction of a 14.8 mile pipeline to carry reclaimed wastewater to the Snowbowl for use in making artificial snow during the ski season. The U.S Forest Service approved the construction May 25.
Since that time, work crews have laid more than a 1-1/2 miles of pipeline and have cut a 6 foot wide by 6 foot deep gash into the holy mountain, protesters said. “Four weeks of desecration has already occurred. Too much has already been taken. Today, tomorrow and for a healthy future, we say ‘enough!’”
The Snowbowl released a statement saying that at approximately 5:15 Thursday morning Snowbowl Security staff came upon six individuals as they trespassed and entered the closed work zone along Snowbowl Road. Security immediately called law enforcement, and together with the Summit/Fort Valley Fire Department, they extracted the individuals from the work zone. No property or equipment damage occurred and work on the pipeline began after a two-hour delay.
“It is unfortunate that thousands of taxpayer dollars were spent by several agencies on this frivolous act to gain publicity. Dozens of hikers, bicyclists, and tourists were not allowed to go up Snowbowl Road until the incident was over,” according to the statement. “This is another example of opposition groups and individuals showing their lack of respect for the law and judicial process. Snowbowl will strongly encourage the maximum criminal and civil charges against these individuals.”
Klee Benally of Flagstaff, whose family members are party to a lawsuit against the Snowbowl, said he was among a group of protesters at the base. “At sunrise or so, about eight people went up and six people chained or locked themselves in some fashion to equipment that Snowbowl was using to dig the pipeline trench and move the pipeline into place.”
Four people – two people locked to each other back-to-back – were removed from inside the pipe trenches. Four people dressed in HazMat-style suits and others holding banners and blocking Snowbowl Road were moved by police off to the side of the roadway where the protest continued, Benally said.
He condemned the construction as an attempt to undermine the judicial process, since the 9th Circuit Court still hasn’t ruled on the case with the Save the Peaks Coalition and other plaintiffs. “We have very few options, especially as indigenous people, when it comes down to protecting our sacred places.”
The Snowbowl’s Borowsky said, “It is unfortunate that the people that organize these illegal activities do not have the courage to chain themselves to the construction equipment and violate laws. Instead, they allow their naive and underage followers to risk arrest, imprisonment and very significant fines. These leaders hide behind their banners and megaphones a short distance away while their followers are arrested. Most leaders have courage; these leaders do not. I suggest that the followers allow their leaders to be out front in the future.”
All six protesters, including two minor Dine females, were charged with misdemeanors and released, Benally said, adding that three separate complaints were filed against law enforcement alleging excessive force when removing protesters from their locks.
“This issue is definitely far from over,” he said. “We do have the process the Forest Service initiated, we do have the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and we have other means to fight to guarantee protection for sacred places. We shouldn’t just roll over. I don’t think any peoples would consciously, readily accept the just wanton desecration of an area that is so holy and part of the essence of the ways of life for one nation, let alone 13 nations.”
Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission Chairman Duane “Chili” Yazzie last week told the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs that the U.N. declaration fills the gaps where U.S. domestic policy and federal laws have failed to protect sacred sites such as the San Francisco Peaks.
“The United States must respect and abide by international law regarding indigenous human rights, specifically those that address sacred sites,” he said. Navajo believes the use of wastewater will contaminate medicinal plants used in ceremonies and prayers and diminish their effectiveness.