Since ancient times - centuries before the European settlement of North
America - the Hopi people have regarded the San Francisco Peaks as
"Nubatukyaovi," which in my native Hopi language means "place of snow on
Nubatukyaovi is central to Hopi culture and religion. It is the home of
Katsina spirit messengers, who throughout the growing season drift as
clouds from the Peaks and descend on my semi-arid homeland in northeastern
Arizona, bringing rain, hope and guidance to the Hopi people.
Virtually all Hopi boys and girls are initiated into Katsina societies,
where they are taught to live good, humble lives and to seek balance with
all living and non-living things. That is at the heart of a life path known
as the Hopi Way.
Of course the Hopi, and all American Indians, have survived a tortured
history. Since the Spanish and EuroAmerican settlement of this country we
have lost lives, most of our land and much of our culture and traditions.
Sacred and religious Indian artifacts - even the human remains of our
ancestors - were confiscated by collectors and archeologists. Many remains
and artifacts are stored in vaults or displayed as exhibits in museums.
Religious pieces essential to Hopi ceremonies were taken from our villages,
and rituals once integral to the Hopi religion are no longer performed.
Generations of reservation poverty, a failed system of federal paternalism
and the pressures of modern society have made it difficult for first
Americans to retain our way of life. Federal policy toward American Indians
evolved from conquest and genocide to forced removal from ancestral land
and assimilation into non-Indian society. Children in Indian boarding
schools were punished for wearing their hair in the traditional manner and
speaking their native language.
So it came as little surprise that the U.S. Forest Service, an agent of a
federal government with trust responsibility for Native nations, recently
decided to desecrate the sacred relationship with Nubatukyaovi held not
only by Hopi people, but more than 13 other Indian tribes who hold the
Peaks as sacred to their way of life.
Disregarding the pleas of 12,000 Hopi people and 300,000 other American
Indians, the Coconino Forest Service last March ruled that contaminated,
reclaimed water can be piped to the top of Nubatukyaovi for the purpose of
making artificial snow, so more people can ski the Peaks.
The decision by Coconino Forest Supervisor Nora Rasure to expand a special
use permit enabling the Arizona Snowbowl Resort to saturate sacred and
hallowed ground with reclaimed waste water was devastating to the Hopi
people. Hopi religious leaders travel regularly to the Peaks. Many of my
tribe's clans and religious societies, such as the Bear Clan and Two Horn
Priests Society, have shrines on the mountains. They visit the area to
deposit prayer offerings and collect herbs and plants for ceremonies.
"I don't know how any mountains could be more important to a religion than
the peaks are to us," Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, director of the Hopi Cultural
Preservation Office, told the Arizona Republic. "The use of reclaimed water
on such a sacred site can only be described as sacrilegious."
"To Native Americans, desecrating the San Francisco Peaks with wastewater
is like flushing the Koran down the toilet," said Navajo Nation President
Joe Shirley Jr.
Legal motions by the Hopi and other Indian tribes asking that the Forest
Service reconsider its ruling will be heard Oct. 6 in U.S. District Court.
Our attorneys will argue that the Forest Service violated the National
Environmental Protection Act by not considering the psychological,
spiritual and cultural impact snowmaking would have on Hopi people and
other American Indians who worship Nubatukyaovi.
The environmental report filed by the Forest Service acknowledges
snowmaking will harm the cultural and religious integrity of the Peaks.
The San Francisco Peaks "[is] the spiritual essence of what Hopis consider
the most sacred landscapes in Hopi religion," the environmental report
states. "Ceremonies associated with the Peaks, the plants and herbs
gathered on the Peaks, and shrines and ancestral dwellings located in the
vicinity of the Peaks are of central importance to the religious beliefs
and traditions that are the core of the Hopi culture."
But Hopi attorneys will argue that the Forest Service failed to analyze the
cultural and psychological harm snowmaking would have on the Hopi Tribe,
the 12 Hopi villages or individual Hopi citizens. Every one of the Hopi
people believes strongly in the Katsinam and the sanctity of the Peaks.
I am not a lawyer. I am not an expert on the law. But I do know the federal
government must stand up to its trust responsibility to the Hopi and other
We Indians have lost our ancestors. We have been stripped of most all our
aboriginal lands. We have seen our culture literally stolen from us. Are we
now being asked to exist without our spiritual beliefs? Can the federal
government and the courts strip Indians of their religions?
Is it right for the federal government, as trustee for Native peoples, to
sacrifice the religious and spiritual beliefs of the Hopi people and
300,000 other Native Americans so that fewer than 20,000 people can ski?
I am broken-hearted over what may happen to the Hopi people if we are not
allowed to preserve and protect our way of life. I am sad not just for our
elders and spiritual leaders, but the young people and generations of Hopis
who may be forced to grow up without their culture and spiritual identity.
Already children are voicing their hurt. Majol Honanie of the Hopi village
of Hoteville was initiated into the Katsina Society in 2001 at the age of
13. Her clan is responsible for certain Katsina ceremonies, particularly
the Powamuy (Bean Dance). Majol realizes how strongly the physical and
spiritual health of Hopi people is tied to our ability to maintain the
Peaks as a sacred home of the Katsinam.
"When the Katsinas come to our villages and then go home, we say our
prayers to them and they carry it to the Peaks," Majol says. "This is what
I have been taught and this is what I respect today.
"The use of wastewater to make snow at the Peaks...will cause pollution to
the land and water and [will] affect the birds, animals and people. The
Katsinam may be forced to abandon their home. Our clan roles will vanish.
So, too, will our way of life.
"I hope that the Coconino National Forest and the people who run the
Snowbowl will learn to respect the mountains."