Navajos take bus to Prescott trial on Snowbowl
PRESCOTT – Navajo tribal members turned out in droves Wednesday for the resumption of a federal court trial in Prescott about the Snowbowl Ski Area.
The Navajo Nation provided bus transportation Tuesday from Window Rock to Prescott so tribal members could show their support for the lawsuit on the day that Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. was testifying.
While many of the tribal members protested on the county courthouse plaza across from the federal courthouse, the court turned others away because the courtroom didn’t have nearly enough room for everyone who wanted to enter.
Six Arizona Indian tribes and three environmental groups are suing the U.S. Forest Service over its decision to allow Snowbowl to expand.
The trial is focusing on the tribes’ contention that the use of recycled wastewater for snowmaking will be a substantial burden on their ability to practice their religion.
The plaintiff tribes and others, including the local Yavapai-Prescott Tribe, consider the San Francisco Peaks to be one of their most sacred sites. The prominent peaks, which include the tallest mountain in Arizona, are at the center of some tribes’ creation stories.
The trial resumed Wednesday and today after more than a weeklong hiatus. If it doesn’t finish today, it probably will continue early next week. It has experienced several breaks as federal District Court Judge Paul Rosenblatt tries to squeeze it into his schedule as quickly as possible so Snowbowl can move ahead on its expansion plans if the Forest Service wins.
Shirley and Navajo Nation Council Speaker Lawrence T. Morgan released a letter this past week asking tribal members to help protect the peaks and attend the court hearing Wednesday.
“The integrity of our culture and our way of life is under attack,” the letter states. “When the sanctity of one sacred mountain is compromised, the entire system is compromised. It is our job – as stewards of the environment in which we live – to protect these mountains for future generations to come.”
The Forest Service approved construction of a 14-mile pipeline to bring effluent from Flagstaff for snowmaking on 200 acres at Snowbowl, cutting down trees on 74 acres to add ski runs, building a snowplay area, and improving ski lifts and lodges.
Snowbowl attorney Janice Schneider told the court that the ski area likely will have to shut down without snowmaking.
The case could have far-reaching impacts on how the federal government manages land that American Indians hold sacred.
“Millions of acres of federal land is at stake here,” Schneider agreed during a pre-trial hearing.
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