Ninth Circuit Rejects Save the Peaks’ Effort to
Stop the Arizona Snowbowl
Activists are protecting sacred San Francisco Peaks from Snowbowl pipeline construction, which would carry sewage water for snow. Native medicine men gather herbs for healing on the mountain, sacred to 13 area Indian Nations.
The 9th Circuit in the case held that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not bar the Forest Service from approving the use of recycled waste water to make artificial snow at Arizona’s Snowbowl ski resort, which operates on federal land.
The Save the Peaks coalition have released a statement on the decision.
“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.”
This is a big deal. It means that questions of how we approach issues of religious freedom and religious rights on land that is a traditional cultural property under U.S. law are dramatically altered (within 9th Circuit jurisdiction). Perhaps the Forest Service have been intentionally dragging their feet in getting the San Francisco Peaks on the National Register because they didn’t want tribal considerations interfering with their sweetheart deals involving the Snowbowl resort?