Direct Action halts ski resort construction on sacred site

Posted: February 5, 2012 by earthfirstdurango in development, direct action, environmental justice, environmental racism, indigenous solidarity, repression, resistance, sacred sites, water

By Kyle Boggs, Earth First! Journal

It was an especially beautiful morning on June 16, when at least 15 people participated in a direct action on the San Francisco Peaks that temporarily halted construction of a pipeline on the mountain. Six mainly indigenous youth were arrested during the coordinated action and another was cited for trespassing.

On December 1, 2010, Federal Judge Mary Murguia ruled in favor of Arizona Snowbowl Limited Partnership, approving the construction of a 14.8-mile reclaimed wastewater pipeline from Flagstaff to the ski resort, among other developments. The water is to be used at Snowbowl to make artificial snow. While many ski resorts around the world use a percentage of reclaimed wastewater to make snow, the resort would be the only one in the world that would use a 100% mixture of wastewater in this way. Prompted by concerns from the scientific community and others who assert the likelihood of health risks associated with the use of reclaimed wastewater, the Environmental Protection Agency is currently conducting a national multi-year study of the water to be completed in 2013.

The case itself, brought on by the Save the Peaks Coalition and nine concerned citizens, is currently under appeal in the Ninth Circuit. The Hopi Tribe has filed their own separate lawsuit citing a first amendment violation of their religious freedoms in association with further development.

The San Francisco Peaks are held sacred to at least 13 regional Native American tribes and the impact of construction has been emotional. A prayer gathering was held at the base of the San Francisco Peaks a few days after construction began, where Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly addressed the crowd declaring, “We have got to stop the construction.” Kelvin Long, director of ECHOES (Educating Communities while Healing and Offering Environmental Support) stated, “We’re going to protect our mountain, we’re not going to allow snowmaking to happen.” Steve Darden of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission and former Flagstaff City Council member added a specific message to youth. “In our Hogans and sweat lodges we are offering our prayers, we’re relying on you young ones to step up.”

And so they did.

On the morning of the action, as the full moon faded and the sun rose, two demonstrators chained themselves to the wheel well of a large excavator while two pairs of women sat back-to-back deep inside the six-foot-trench, bound to each other by the neck with U-locks. The action occurred a few miles up Snowbowl Road where construction had been in progress since May 25, 2011.

The first to respond on the scene was Snowbowl. The security vehicle, a blue Mercedes, screamed up and down Snowbowl Road apparently trying to locate those involved in the action. By 6 AM more than 15 armed agents arrived on the scene, as well as the Coconino County Sheriff’s Department, City of Flagstaff Police, and the FBI.

At the same time a group of at least eight demonstrators gathered at the bottom of Snowbowl road, blocking access. Five demonstrators wore white hazmat suites in a symbolic “quarantine” of the resort, stretching banners across the road that read, “Protect Sacred Sites” and “Danger! Health Hazard—Snowbowl.” Caution tape was stretched across the width of the road along with other objects, forming a makeshift blockade.

The demonstrators engaged in a multi-varied approach to what is very much considered a multi-layered issue. The complexity of the controversy was illustrated in the diversity of demonstrator’s chants, echoing from the base of the mountain, from those locked to construction equipment, and from voices deep from within the trenches. “Protect Sacred Sites, Defend Human Rights!” “No desecration for recreation!” “Stop the cultural genocide! Protect the Peaks!” “Human health over corporate wealth!” “Dook’o’osliid [the traditional Diné name of the San Francisco Peaks], we’ve got your back!”

Fire Department began aggressively cutting demonstrators from their various lockdown devices. Evan Hawbaker and Kristopher Barney were chained to the same excavator. “The police’s use of excessive force was in complete disregard for my safety. They pulled at my arms and forced my body and head further into the machine, all the while using heavy duty power saws within inches of my hand,” said Hawbaker.

Rather than negotiate, as the demonstrators were cut, it was clear that the police and firemen preferred to use scare tactics. “We don’t want to cut your arm off,” repeated one of the firemen several times to which Hawbaker finally responded, “I don’t want you to cut my arm off either.” Hawbaker said the fireman looked dead serious, “well, we will if we have to.”

The firefighters used a Sawzall to cut the PVC pipe lengthwise. When the blade hit the metal rod, it rattled the chain violently. Hawbaker depicts, “Those who cut us out endangered our well being ignoring the screams to stop. They treated our bodies the way they’re treating this holy mountain.”

One of the women in the trench described an action taken in which one police officer would attempt to stand them up while another officer moved the other demonstrator another way. Because U-locks bound the women by the neck, they were choked. “Nobody even bothered to ask what it would take to get us out voluntarily. Finally they just started hurting us,” said Ms. Del Callejo. “I’m here to protect the mountain, I said, and you’re hurting me. You’re choking me.” The police responded in a way that did not sugar coat their lack of experience in dealing with nonviolent demonstrators. “That’s your own fault.”

“Our safety was prioritized second to Snowbowl’s demands. I was not aggressive. My lock was sawed through, inches away from both of our heads, secured solely and recklessly by the hands of a deputy. The police’s response was hasty, taking about ten minutes in total—it was dehumanizing,” said Hailey Sherwood, one of the last demonstrators cut out.

One at a time, as demonstrators were removed from their locking devices, they were treated by paramedics, and arrested for trespassing. Those two demonstrators that were bound to minors were also charged with “contributing to the delinquency of a minor,” and another charged for “endangerment.”

On the Monday after the lockdown, the Arizona Daily Sun published an editorial reaction entitled, “Monkey-wrenchers Marginalize Cause of Native America.” Besides the fact that the term, “monkeywrenching,” is entirely misrepresented in the editorial, as it is well documented that demonstrators took great care not to damage any machinery, the editorial itself reads more like an attempt by the paper to, in fact, marginalize the history of social and environmental movements.

The editorial explained that demonstrators’ comparison of their actions to Rosa Parks is a false analogy on the grounds that when Ms. Parks refused to move to the back of the bus, segregation was illegal. Said the editorial, “civil rights activists were seeking to uphold the law.” Here it sounds like the writers of the editorial would not have found the actions of Ms. Parks to be meaningful, courageous, or ethically sound if she had acted before segregation laws were abolished. It would be a curious task for the writers to name one social movement in the history of the world that did not result in illegal actions and arrests.

“Throughout history, acts of resistance and civil disobedience have been taken by young and old against injustices such as this. This action is not isolated but part of a continued resistance to human rights violations, to colonialism, to corporate greed, and destruction of Mother Earth,” added Del Callejo.

The editorial goes on, “The Snowbowl protesters are focusing on a religious dispute and don’t have the law on their side.” If the last 40 years of lawsuits have revealed anything, it should be clear that confronting a Eurocentric court system that is structurally incapable of making connections between environmental and human rights concerns has been a challenge for native people from the get-go. If the Daily Sun thinks the only issue here is “a religious dispute” that has nothing to do with the environmental integrity of the mountain and is not connected to the cultural survival of our native neighbors, they have truly exposed how out of touch they are on this issue. “The Holy San Francisco Peaks is home, tradition, culture, and a sanctuary… and all this is being desecrated by the Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort,” said one of the demonstrators.

In the city council meetings related to choosing a water source for Snowbowl last summer, at least three-fouths of those hundreds of people in attendance submitted pubic comments in opposition to development, most of which urged the council to cancel the water contract with Snowbowl all together.

Furthermore, early in the morning of the demonstrations, word got out on [public radio] KNAU about what was happening, folks from all over Flagstaff came by and offered their support. A demonstrator remarked, “One woman came by with her daughter. She gave us all a bunch of Gatorade and offered to cook us all meals if it went on throughout the day. Many other folks grabbed signs and joined in the rally at the bottom of the mountain.” Furthermore, activists began to call from all over the country, as far away as Hawaii. A group from New Mexico said they were on their way to Flagstaff.

“How can we be trespassers on our Holy Site?” questioned Barney. “I do not agree with these and the other charges; we will continue our resistance.”

[There have now been over 23 arrested for resisting construction of the pipeline which began along Snowbowl Road in late May of 2011]

  1. […] can read it here and here. Though most folks that visit this site probably already read this article back in July. Explore […]

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