By denying the petition to hear the case regarding local tribe’s religious and cultural imperative to protect the San Francisco Peaks, in June of this year, the Supreme Court reaffirmed two things. It upheld the 2008 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision to allow for Snowbowl to expand their operations as well as make artificial snow from the city’s treated sewage effluent. “It means that the San Francisco Peaks, sacred to so many tribes, will continue to be at great risk from the development approved by the Forest Service…It also means that the Ninth Circuit’s narrow interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)–an interpretation which in practice will make the law virtually unavailable to protect sacred lands in the states covered by the Ninth Circuit–will stand,” said Jack Trope of the Association on American Indian Affairs.
It also reaffirmed something local tribes already knew, which is that the world view guiding western law is structurally incapable of protecting the needs and interests of people whose religious and cultural identity are tied directly to the land. Don Watahomigie, Chairman of the Havasupai Tribe asked, “where do native people stand now in relation” to the “federal government when laws passed like RFRA” and others “don’t hold water?” The way the law compartmentalizes these concerns, tribes and environmental groups have been forced to try one argument and then the other, as if human rights and environmental justice weren’t related. Media spokesperson for the Save the Peaks Coalition, Rudy Preston agrees. “Because of the environmental arguments, there is a religious argument.”
Because the courts have consistently dismissed the arguments by native people to protect the San Francisco Peaks on the grounds of religion and cultural integrity, on Monday, September 21st of this year, the Save the Peaks Coalition and nine citizens have embarked on a different strategy. The group has filed a lawsuit calling for the Forest Service to take seriously the growing public health concerns regarding the safety of using treated sewage effluent they intend to use to create fake snow.