Tribal members face harassment on sacred Peaks
- Tribal members face harassment on sacred Peaks
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
FLAGSTAFF - The Flagstaff Ski area, more commonly known as Arizona Snowbowl,
officially opened at 9 a.m., Wednesday, Jan. 24. A number of concerned
community members went to the ski area to offer prayers to the mountain and
witness the opening day. While some individuals held a banner and chanted "No
desecration for recreation," others made quiet prayers away from the lifts and
"As I have been taught, this mountain is the essence of our way of life as
Dine people," said Klee Benally a member of the all-volunteer Save the Peaks
"I came here to offer my prayers for protection of this holy mountain,
because it is threatened by Snowbowl's plan to make snow from treated sewage
Snowbowl General Manager J.R. Murray eventually confronted Benally and
demanded that he leave the area immediately.
"I told the Snowbowl representative that this was my church, I would not
leave my church because this is where I pray. I also told him that I was aware
that the Peaks are public lands and that I had every right to be there.
Snowbowl Official J.R. Murray didn't care, he just wanted me to leave and
communicated this very aggressively, I felt threatened."
He added, "Snowbowl is overreacting, today's aggressive encounter just goes
to show that they have no respect for our culture at all."
As Benally headed down the mountain, Snowbowl officials called the Forest
Service law enforcement to falsely report that Klee and others that were
praying were "littering" on the mountain.
"A Forest Service law enforcement official followed us down the mountain,
turned on his lights and stopped our vehicle to question us. It was very
intimidating. I hope no one has to go through that when they go to their church",
No one was arrested, but the officer asked the group to be "professional"
and to "be good about this and you'll be much better in the long run." He
continued, "We don't want you hurt or anyone else hurt up there."
Benally stated, "The Forest Service official stated that he was concerned
for our safety, [which] illustrates that there is a threat of violence that
exists for us when we want to go to our sacred mountain. He made it sound like
it was dangerous for people that want to pray."
This is not the first time individuals have been harassed and intimidated
while offering prayers near the ski area. In two incidents last year, armed
Forest Service Officials followed a group while they were making offerings at a
site within the ski area boundary. Another group last year was detained at
the base of the mountain and questioned by county sheriffs deputies as to what
they were doing on the mountain.
Numerous tribes and environmental groups continue to peacefully oppose
Snowbowl's proposed desecration through legal appeals, education, demonstrations,
and prayer gatherings.
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