Flagstaff City Council choose money over respect

Dear Editor,

The Snowbowl is clearly visible from Navajo and Hopi land.

It scars their sacred geography. It stands as an overt symbol of racism.

The ongoing presence of the Snowbowl interferes with the ability of the Navajo and the Hopi to practice their religion and to maintain their culture. The proposed use of Flagstaff’s wastewater for artificial snowmaking adds insult to injury.

The Snowbowl claims that its future depends on the use of Flagstaff's wastewater for artificial snowmaking. The proposal to saturate their sacred grounds with wastewater deeply offends the Navajo and the Hopi.

On March 19, 2002, the city of Flagstaff’s City Council chose Snowbowl money over respect for Navajo and Hopi religion. They voted unanimously to use their wastewater for artificial snowmaking at the Snowbowl.

The City Council did attempt to hide their prejudice against the Navajo and the Hopi by using the Forest Service’s National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) study process as a smokescreen. But a smokescreen cannot hide the prejudice that remains unchanged today.

The minutes of the March 19, 2002, Flagstaff City Council meeting regarding the wastewater agreement read:

“In its discussion, the City Council agreed that the purpose of the NEPA process is to take all cultural, social, religious, and environmental issues into account as part of the body of information used to make a decision at the next level... The City Council expressed its sensitivity to religious, cultural and environmental issues, but remarked they will be addressed through the NEPA process... The motion passed on unanimous vote.”

The City Council knew full well that the NEPA process prohibits protection for Native American religions. They knew that linking their decision to the NEPA process would guarantee approval of the Snowbowl’s use of wastewater and would result in rejection of protection for Navajo and Hopi religion.

Since April 19, 1988, the NEPA process prohibits protection for Native American religious practice on Public Lands. The prohibition resulted from the 1988, U.S. Supreme Court decision in the “G-O” Road or “Lyng” case. The Court ruled that construction of a logging road through the Six Rivers National Forest Service in California could not be stopped in spite of its interference with the ability of the Yurok, Karok, and Tolowa to practice their religion.

In 2002, the Flagstaff City Council had a choice to endorse the U.S. Supreme Court’s endorsement of discrimination against Native Americans or reject it. They chose discrimination.

In 2009, the Flagstaff City Council’s treatment of the Navajo and the Hopi remains unchanged. They still chose Snowbowl money over respect for Navajo and Hopi religion. Shame.

Robin Silver
Flagstaff, Arizona