Navajo Nation v. U.S. Forest Service, Part II

UPDATE – June 8, 2009

Regrettably, the United States Supreme Court refused to take the case.  Your “subjective” experience of your religion is not protected, at least in the Ninth Circuit.

This is the end of the current legal trail for the tribes.  Presumably, the political trail remains open to them and one hopes for a more enlightened climate now.  In the meantime, we are still exacting our revenge for the battle at the Little Bighorn.  The majority seldom allows the religious beliefs of minorities to stand in the way of capitalism.  See generally, The Long Death by Ralph Andrist.


The latest post in the series, May 18, 2009, is here. The Supreme Court will decide on Thursday, June 4, 2009, whether to take the case.  The Court may not make public its decision until Monday, June 8th.


We ended last time on the strange words of eight judges of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The “sole effect” of spraying treated sewage water on the holiest mountain in several religions will be to diminish the “subjective spiritual experience” which “will decrease the spiritual fulfillment” of the adherents to those religions.

Wait a minute.

I thought “subjective spiritual experience” and “spiritual fulfillment” was the whole point of religion.

Apparently I was wrong.  Despite the court’s recognition that using sewage to make artificial snow at the Snowbowl north of Flagstaff Arizona will diminish and lessen the religion of the Native Americans to whom the mountain is sacred, the 8 judges allowed it. Ethnocentrism is alive and well in the American West.

Hualapai Narrows in the Grand Canyon

Hualapai Narrows in the Grand Canyon

In the beginning, water covered the earth.  The People put a young girl on a log and floated her off so the species would survive.  All the People except the young girl died.  But the girl lived and her ship landed on the Mountain called Wik’hanbaja—Hwal`bay by the Hualapai.  She washed in the water of the Mountain and conceived a son.  She washed again and conceived another son.  One of these twins became sick and his brother went to the San Francisco peaks as Anglos now call them and collected plants and water and saved his brother’s life and all the Hualapai are descended from the two twin warriors.  Today they collect the water from the Peaks for use in their religious ceremonies.  Healing ceremonies include using the water for sweat lodges and for purification by drinking the water.

Havasupai Mooni Falls in the Gand Canyon

Havasupai Mooni Falls in the Gand Canyon

Or, if you prefer: In the beginning, the earth was submerged in water and our Grandmother floated on a log which landed on the Peaks.  She lived on spring water there and begat the Havasupai people to whom Hvehasahpatch (The Peaks) are holy. The spring water that comes them flows into Havasupai Creek is a living, life-giving, pure substance.  They use it for sweat lodges because the steam becomes the breath of their ancestors.  They drink it to purify themselves.  They give it to their dead to carry on the journey of after-life.

Hopi Village

Hopi Village

Or, if you prefer: In the beginning of this world, the People came up through a Sipapu in the canyon of the Little Colorado not from where it joins the Colorado River, the beginning of the Grand Canyon. The People traveled to  Nuvatukyaovi (The Peaks) where they entered into a spiritual covenant with God to take care of the earth.  The Peaks are the home of the Katsinam, called “Kachinas” in the language of the Anglos.  The Katsinam are the Holy Spirits and spirits of Hopi ancestors.  If the Katsinam are not treated with respect, they will not form clouds and deliver water for the Hopi lands. They live on the Peaks which is where the souls of dead Hopis go.

Hopi Katsina

Hopi Katsina

Heaven, for the Hopis, is where the Court has now allowed treated sewage to be used to create faux snow for the pleasure of skiers.  There are 14 separate holy Hopi shrines up there.  No matter.  It’s only their “subjective spiritual experience” that is harmed.

Navajo Woman getting water

Navajo Woman getting water

Or, if you prefer: In the beginning, the Mother of Humanity — Changing Woman, lived on the Peaks.  There she went through her puberty ceremony, the  kinaalda, after which she gave birth to the Hero Twins from whom all Navajos descend.  Like a Christian confirmation or a Jewish bat mitzvah, the kinaalda is celebrated by young Navajo women to this day because that is how human life is continued.  Water especially collected after a pilgrimage to the Peaks is used in the ceremonies.

For life on the planet to continue, Nature must be pure. The nochoka dine (People of the Earth) are put on the surface of this planet to care for the lands.  Medicine bundles, consisting of materials gathered from the four holy mountains, embed the unwritten way of Navajo life. First used by the Hero Twins, the bundles are necessary for horzo, that beautiful concept of living in harmony with nature, one’s community and one’s self.  Without it, the center cannot hold.
But now up to 1.5 million gallons of sewage effluent per day from November through February will be sprayed on the Peaks.  That “reclaimed water” will be free of detectable fecal coliform bacteria for at least four out of every seven days it is sprayed on the mountain.  However on every day it is sprayed, it will contain detectable levels of enteric bacteria, viruses, Cryptosporidium, Giardia, other protazoa and “many unidentified and unregulated residual organic contaminants.”

Humans should not drink the stuff.  Nor swallow any snow made from it.  And I suspect the judges of the Ninth Circuit would not be happy for their grandchildren to be baptized with it.
To the Native Americans we say, modern science counsels you to take the long view, as your people always have. The Peaks are volcanoes and aren’t finished erupting; they’re only napping.  It’s just a matter of time until Nature reconfirms the holiness of your mountains by wiping that ski area off the face of the planet.


UPDATE – March  16, 2009

We’ve updated this post here.


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2 Responses to “Navajo Nation v. U.S. Forest Service, Part II”

  1. Kelly Kittler Says:

    Please ~ this has to stop right now.

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