Sacred consultations: San Francisco Peaks near Flag [with comment]

Hunter Gray hunterbadbear at
Mon Nov 25 15:36:31 MST 2002

Note by Hunterbear:

This article from the Arizona Daily Sun at Flagstaff [my home area] involves
the San Francisco Peaks just north of town.  This impressive range is
extremely sacred to Southwestern Native people -- especially the Navajo [for
whom it is one of the four sacred mountains of vast Navajoland] and the Hopi
people [who regularly conduct closed religious ceremonies on its
pine/spruce/fir slopes.]  The highest peak, Humphreys, is about 13,000 feet
above sea level -- rising 6,000 feet above Flag itself, which is about 7,000
feet [half again as high as Denver.] From the top of Humphreys Peak, one can
see into five states [Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, and Nevada] and
also Mexico.  Occasionally, one can also glimpse California.

I grew up literally looking out and up at the Peaks -- not far at all from
our house which was on the far north end of the Flagstaff setting.

This is normally very heavy snow country in the winter. [Although this was
unusual, I can remember 17 feet of snow falling in three weeks.]  The
Arizona Snowbowl -- always a nationally known ski resort --  lies well up on
the western slope of the Peaks and has been around for many decades.  And
now it's much visited internationally. [I never skied -- but I did have Bear
Paw snowshoes and used those extensively.]

The Snowbowl wants to expand.  Then too, the long Southwestern drought has
played hell with the snow supply and there are wishes to manufacture
artificial snow.

The tribal nations, thirteen of them, and especially the Navajo and the
Hopi, and the Coconino National Forest are all talking about these
proposals -- and it'll be interesting and very significant to see how it all
turns out.  There was a time when the USFS would not have consulted with the
Native leaders.  Now there is considerably more Federal sensitivity on these
matters -- but the tribes still need all of the positive outside scrutiny
and support they can get on issues of this sort where commercial expansion
and related dimensions are using every resource at their command to achieve
their developmental ends.

The Arizona Daily Sun, whose most recent [and good] article on this is
herewith attached, was historically owned and edited by Platt Cline -- a
close friend of my parents.  He and his wife, Barbara, [Mrs Cline was
Mormon] were courageously and consistently devoted to racial justice in our
very racist Highway 66 town and extremely tough general setting.  Platt
Cline was also a good friend of the Catholic Anarchist, Ammon Hennacy of the
Catholic Worker Movement, who regularly came to the Flagstaff area to visit
with Native leaders.

The Coconino National Forest [USFS], as I've recounted in earlier posts,
regularly hired me -- a few years before I was the legal work age of 18 --
as a full-time Summer forest fire-fighter and eventually as a major Fire
Lookout/Radio Man. In that situation, I was 18 for several years before I
Really Was. No one worried about those things in those days.


Sacred consultations
By GARY GHIOTO Sun Staff Reporter 11/24/2002

Since June, the Forest Service has been quietly sounding out officials from
13 Native American tribes about a controversial plan to use reclaimed water
to make artificial snow and spend millions of dollars upgrading skiing
terrain and guest facilities at Arizona Snowbowl.

"Consultation" with the tribes is mandated by federal law because the San
Francisco Peaks are considered a "traditional cultural property" and will
likely be added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The Forest Service's Snowbowl project automatically triggered "government to
government" closed-door meetings because tribal officials are upset with
plans to use recycled water for snowmaking and to increase commercial
activity on lands considered sacred.

"The complexity of making decisions on public land is tremendous. And in
this geographic area, it's complicated again by the attachment to the land
by Native Americans. But it's part of the job. A big part of the job," said
Peaks District Ranger Gene Waldrip.

The Snowbowl wants to improve guest services, construct a snowmaking system
to cover 205 acres of ski terrain and develop nearly 70 acres of new ski

Native American officials meeting with the Forest Service on the Snowbowl
issue give officials high marks for reaching out and working with the

But given Snowbowl's shaky economic base due to poor snow winters and its
impact on the Flagstaff economy, some Native American officials don't expect
the consultation process to amount to much.

"Well basically, they are saying we're going to go ahead about it, but how
can we go ahead without making you any madder or how can we move ahead
without stepping on any more of your toes?" said Steven Begay of the Navajo
Nation Historic Preservation Office.

Waldrip said that the Arizona Snowbowl project is a "proposed action" and
that information from consultations with the tribes, as well as the mountain
of comments from the public, will be taken into consideration when the
Forest Service releases alternatives to its current proposal.

It could take two years before a final Snowbowl plan is approved, and it may
be far different than the one currently proposed, Waldrip said.

Begay said despite misgivings about Arizona Snowbowl, the tribes see the
face-to-face meetings as the best way to make their case against snowmaking.

"We're trying to use this consultation process as a way to voice our
concerns to areas that we do not have direct control over," Begay said.

"We give them all of this information and hope they will make the right
decision to preserve these places for the benefit of our beliefs and the
preservation of our culture but ... in reality, everything, even the
government, is driven by economics," Begay said.

For many Navajo and Hopi, the Peaks play a role in their cosmology and daily
religious practices. During the consultation process, the tribes have tried
to impress upon the Forest Service the key role the Peaks play in their
spiritual beliefs.

The Forest Service acknowledges the Snowbowl plan will have "adverse"
effects on the tribes, but believes their concerns can be "mitigated"
through negotiation and "information sharing."

"I hear a lot of rhetoric that the Coconino National Forest is not seeking
out the input of the Native Americans or are receptive to working with them.
I hear that a lot. Some people have that perception. So, hopefully, we can
inform the public that there is a lot going on. We work very intently and
closely with the Native American community and the tribes," Waldrip said.

Coconino National Forest archeologist Heather Cooper said that consultation
with the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe on a range of projects under way in
the national forest is a regular occurrence.

The Snowbowl project has prompted public meetings on the Hopi Reservation
(see related story) and briefings of chapter house officials on the Navajo
reservation, she said.

"We send out a letter annually to our 13 affiliated tribes to inform them of
projects for the coming year. Then we meet with those various tribes ...
actually tribes are getting inundated with consultations with so many
national forests and parks. So we're trying to streamline the process,"
Cooper said.

Begay said visits to western chapter houses by the Navajo-liaison officer
from the Peaks Ranger District shows the Forest Service is listening to
tribal concerns.

Meanwhile, Navajo and Hopi cultural officials hope the consultation process
will convince the Forest Service to abandon the Snowbowl plan and eventually
shut the ski area down.

"Ideally, that would be the Native American perspective. That place is so
sacred, it's like a chamber off the Vatican, if you want to put it into a
western perspective. You wouldn't want to build a tennis court on top of the
Vatican, would you?" Begay asked.

There is a precedence for this view. Native American opposition to the White
Vulcan pumice mine on the northeast slopes of the Peaks contributed to its
eventual closing.

Snowbowl plans to use treated wastewater for artificial snow is a serious
problem to Native Americans and has been a focus of the consultation issues,
said Leigh J. Kuwanwisiwma, director of the Hopi Cultural Preservation

"Health is a very significant issue and there is always the morality of
recycling these wastes to create artificial snow," Kuwanwisiwma said.

The "negative aspects" of the water, even though purified to a high degree,
makes it unsuitable to spray on the Peaks, he said.

When reassured that the recycled water posed no health risk, the Hopis still
objected, citing arrogance of people making snow, something reserved for
spirits to do.

"I don't think anything will appease the Hopi people on this. The Forest
Service asked, 'What if there is a proposal to dig a well and use the water
for artificial snowmaking?' But the elders said no, it's still manmade,"
Kuwanwisiwma said.

"It's something so emotional to the Hopi people. The Peaks are part of our
everyday lives. It's not just a significant landscape, it carries the
essence of our life as well," he added.

Begay said snowmaking, ski trail lighting and more people using the mountain
are the top issues surrounding the Snowbowl upgrade.

Though issues divide them on Snowbowl, the relationship forged between
tribes and the Forest Service is a long-standing one, said Kuwanwisiwma.

"Our office has had a very long and very good relationship with the Coconino
National Forest. So I have confidence that they can relate to some of the
issues brought into this process. If it was any other agency, maybe not. But
I know a lot of these people ... we know them very well. They are known out
here (in Hopiland) and have a good record of consultation," he said.

Hunter Gray  [Hunterbear]
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
and Ohkwari'

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