[Marxism] Saving the Peaks Medicine men speak out

Hunter Gray hunterbadbear at earthlink.net
Mon Apr 12 08:17:07 MDT 2004

Saving the Peaks Medicine men speak out

By Kathy Helms
Diné Bureau  [Gallup Independent]

Note by Hunter Bear:  The San Francisco Peaks are just north of Flagstaff,

WINDOW ROCK - Saying their spiritual sovereignty is as important as their
legal sovereignty, the Diné (Navajo Nation) Medicine Men Association this
week called for protection of the San Francisco Peaks from expansion of the
Arizona Snowbowl and artificial snow-making with reclaimed water.

During a press conference Thursday at the Education Center auditorium in
Window Rock, the group also requested a 120-day extension of the public
comment period that ends Monday on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement,
which calls for using up to 552 acre feet of treated effluent to make
artificial snow.

"The San Francisco Peaks are as sacred to us as any church and we, the
spiritual leaders of tribes, will fight to protect them," said Anthony Lee,
president of the association. The medicine men are particularly concerned
that the Forest Service has failed in its government-to-government

Hearings on the Snowbowl project have not been accessible to tribal members
throughout the southwest region that hold the Peaks sacred, the medicine men
said. The also took issue with the fact that the Forest Service sent the
various proposed development options to tribal members on CD-ROM, saying
that many tribal members cannot use and do not have computers. Also, no
translations of the various proposals were made available and the Forest
Service had few hard copies.

"Too many chapters and tribes don't know that the Forest Service wants to
use reclaimed water on the Peaks,"said Robert Tohe, spokesman for Save the
Peaks Coalition."That's because the proposals are only in English and the
hearings are too far for most people to get to. Our grandmas and grandpas
deserve to know what is going on."

The San Francisco Peaks are sacred to over 13 southwestern tribes. The
leaders of those tribes worry that reclaimed water contaminated with
pharmaceuticals and other organic waste compounds will do permanent and
irreversible damage to the Peaks. Coalition leaders say no further action
should be taken until the Peaks are reviewed for designation as a
Traditional Cultural Property and that the EIS should specifically address
the use of reclaimed water on a sacred site.

Vincent Randall, tribal councilman and Apache historian, in a letter of
support to the medicine men on behalf of the Western Apache NAGPRA Working
Group, which consists of traditional elders from White River, San Carlos,
Payson, Camp Verde, and the Yavapai Apache Nation, wrote:

"For the Western Apache people, the Peaks, known to us as Dzil Cho, are
extremely important. ... Dzil Cho marks our place in this world and is the
home of the Mountain Spirits (Gan) who bless our lives and anchor our
understanding of what it means to be Apache. The Mountain supplies us with
important medicines and other plants for our use. ...

"For the people who own and control what happens on Dzil Cho the most sacred
thing is money. We know money is important. We cannot raise our families in
this world without it, but there is a line we cannot cross. The Sacred is
not for sale,"he said."I would like to ask the Forest Service how they can
ignore the convictions of over a quarter of a million Indian people for the
benefit of a few skiers and businesses."

The Diné Medicine Men Association (DMMA) approved a resolution in opposition
to the Snowbowl expansion project and supporting the DEIS' "No Action
Alternative," stating that the development infringes and violates the First
Amendment rights of the U.S. Constitution, American Indian Religious Freedom
Act of 1978, and Executive Order 13007, Indian Sacred Sites.

DMMA's Lee said the May 20, 1983, court decision, Wilson vs. Block,
indicated that Navajo, Apache and other indigenous nations had not been
denied access to the Peaks,"but instead it permitted free entry onto the
Peaks and did not interfere with the ceremonies. Therefore the Plaintiffs
have not proven that expansion of the ski area will prevent them from
performing ceremonies or collecting objects that can be performed or
collected in the Snowbowl but nowhere else."

But Lee disagreed. "They say we have no proof that the development of the
ski area resort does in any way infringe upon our belief system. There is a
language that is missing and this language is the sacred mountain bundles
that all Din medicine man practitioners have. That is our burden of proof.
We weren't given the Bible. We weren't given money. We were given these two
energy sources. And today we are talking about this serious desecration of
the San Francisco Peaks," which is an insult to the Din people, he said.

Dr. David Begay, who also spoke at the press conference, said,"The federal
government through the U.S. Forest Service is claiming that the Native
Americans are currently given access to the San Francisco Peaks and
therefore their religious rights under the First Amendment of the United
States Constitution are not violated.

"From a Native American traditional perspective, access isn't the underlying
concern here. Rather the concerns are over the extreme desecration of the
physical and spiritual integrity of the San Francisco Peaks. Development of
the San Francisco Peaks with reclaimed sewer water would be considered a
grossly profane act. It is an affront to spiritual Navajo beings and a
violation of traditional Navajo beliefs."

Begay said that Navajo traditional people believe that use of the four
sacred mountains is indispensable and central to their way of life."The
government or any one of us simply can't change their ancient beliefs, nor
can we ask them to take out one of the four sacred mountains from their
ancient belief system.

Bad medicine
Jones Benally, a traditional health practitioner and medicine man who works
with the Winslow Indian Medical Center, waved a medicine bundle in the air,
telling the group that the medicine bundle contained all of the herbs from
the foot of the mountain all the way near the top of the San Francisco
Peaks. Benally said that if the reclaimed water is used and sprayed on the
mountain, it will affect his ability to practice his traditional medicine
along with Western medical doctors, because all of those herbs are there to
help heal his patients. "That is why he strongly objects to using reclaimed
water in any of the developments on the San Francisco Peaks," Tohe

Many of those in attendance questioned Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley
Jr.'s stance on the Snowbowl issue. Cora Phillips of the president's office
said Shirley could not attend the press conference due to a prior
commitment. However, she said, the president has established a position on
the San Francisco Peaks issue.

"The Navajo Nation is very concerned that our sacred beliefs are continually
being ignored once again through this new effort, which is using reclaimed
water for recreational purposes on the Peaks. We pray that our words will be
heard in a most respectful way. All Native Americans must stand together to
hold sacred our beliefs and to continue to honor our beliefs and traditions.
That is the statement of the Navajo Nation president," Phillips said.

Norman Brown of Diné Bidziil, who was unable to attend the press conference,
said afterward that the first immigrants fled Europe to pursue their
religion of choice. "How is our right to practice our way of life any
different from the first immigrants' right to freedom of worship? ... Any
defacement of what's sacred to Native people is a defacement of indigenous
notions of humanity. Any act to exploit and deface sacred sites is an act of
dehumanization and therefore a violation of our human rights," he said.

Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
and Ohkwari'

In our Gray Hole, the ghosts often dance in the junipers and sage, on the
game trails, in the tributary canyons with the thick red maples, and on the
high windy ridges -- and they dance from within the very essence of our own
inner being. They do this especially when the bright night moon shines down
on the clean white snow that covers the valley and its surroundings.  Then
it is as bright as day -- but in an always soft and mysterious and
remembering way. [Hunter Bear]

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