Editorial: Money wins over sacred site in Arizona
"Well, it appears as if the Almighty Dollar has won out once again and the religions of many Native Americans have been shoved to the wayside. Last Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear an appeal filed in January by the Navajo Nation and other tribal and environmental groups that ultimately would have protected the San Francisco Peaks from further development by the Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort.

This comes to light after the state of New Mexico placed Mt. Taylor - another mountain held sacred by at least 30 tribes - on their State Register of Cultural Properties on June 5 to protect it from exploratory drilling and possible uranium mining. Incidentally, both Mt. Taylor and the San Francisco Peaks are used by tribes from both New Mexico and Arizona as a place of worship.

At the center of this controversial issue is the fact that the Ninth Circuit Court's previous ruling states that use of reclaimed sewage water to make artificial snow wouldn't "substantially burden" a tribe's exercise of religion, as defined in the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA). The Act also states that if there is a substantial burden on the exercise of religion, then there must be a "compelling public need" that outweighs the religious burden in order for this decision to be reversed. So what is the burden, you may ask?

The claim says that using reclaimed sewage water for snowmaking won't affect any religious ceremonies that tribes wish to conduct on the Peaks and that the sacred mountains would still be accessible to tribes to conduct such ceremonies. Opponents, however, have been saying all along that it's basically like saying the Catholic church (or any church, for that matter) can substitute reclaimed sewage water for holy water and continue to conduct their religious ceremonies without subterfuge. That's pretty much saying that "water is water" and that those ceremonials that require the use of holy water won't be affected."

Get the Story:
Editorial: No room for the red man in a black and white world (The Navajo Hopi-Observer 6/16)

Supreme Court Briefs:
Department of Justice | Arizona Snowbowl | Navajo Nation/Tribes

9th Circuit Decision:
Navajo Nation v. US Forest Service (August 8, 2008)

Related Stories:
Cartoon: Real tears, fake snow at sacred site (6/19)
Editorial: Fake snow alright at sacred peaks (6/16)
Blog: No end to fight over San Francisco Peaks (6/15)
Tribes weigh next step in sacred site battle (6/9)
Supreme Court declines to hear sacred site case (6/8)
Supreme Court to consider sacred site case (6/1)
USDA official can't comment on sacred site case (4/29)
Navajo Nation seeks to resolve sacred site case (4/28)
Obama response awaited in sacred site case (3/23)
Tribes ask Supreme Court to hear sacred site case (1/6)
Tribes weigh next move in sacred site case (10/23)
Indian religious rights cases on high court's horizon (10/21)
9th Circuit delays ruling in sacred site case (10/06)
Interview: Attorney in San Francisco Peaks case (8/22)
Appeals court reverses course on sacred site (8/12)
9th Circuit issues rulings on sacred site, compacts (8/8)