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Ski resort development on mountain sacred to 13 tribes is an issue of human rights

For Immediate release | February 8, 2004

Save the Peaks Coalition to hold press conference.

Flagstaff, AZ, 2/8/04 - The Save the Peaks Coalition will host a press conference on Friday, February, 13 at 11:00 a.m. at the Flagstaff City Hall Council Chambers, 211 W. Aspen. Coalition members will address significant environmental and human rights concerns with the Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort's proposed development on the San Francisco Peaks, a mountain held sacred by more than 13 southwestern tribes. The Coconino National Forest Service announced the release of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the proposed snowmaking and expansion plan early last week.

The newly formed Save the Peaks Coalition, consisting of tribal members, environmental groups, spiritual leaders, local business owners, NAU professors, skiers, snowboarders, students and Flagstaff community members who oppose the proposal, intends to mount a major campaign to convince the Forest Service to choose the No Action Alternative.

“The No Action alternative still allows the ski area to operate and will avoid further environmental destruction and desecration of this sacred mountain that is at the heart of our cultural foundation” said Coalition member Robert Tohe. “The ski area that exists on the mountain now is something we have been forced to accept after decades of attempts to be heard. Only if there is no new development will the reopening of old wounds and further alienation of our people be avoided.”

The highly anticipated DEIS has created a storm of controversy among tribal spiritual leaders. "This plan to make snow from wastewater and expand the ski resort on our church is a plan to violate our human rights," Jones Benally, a Dineh traditional health practitioner, "The Forest Service's support for this proposed development demonstrates of the religious intolerance that we have faced in the past and that we are still
facing today."

While members of the Coalition have held meetings, written letters and sent petitions to the Forest Service asking that the comment period for the DEIS be extended to 120 days to give them time for outreach to affected tribal members, the Forest Service has only increased the period from 45 to 60 days.

"There are many traditional elders who live in very remote areas and many who don't speak English,” said Francis Tso. “How can we possibly manage to do translations of an over 400 page document, let alone distribute it and get comments in from all who have so much at stake in this issue in this short amount of time?"

Lillian Hill, Hopi NAU student stated, "The comment period's timing and short duration are in direct conflict with healing ceremonies on our mesas. Many of our people cannot participate because of ceremonial obligations and a 15 day extension is not enough."

The Coalition plans to address a wide range of issues with the proposal at the press conference. In addition to concerns about protecting the Peaks’ sacred value to the tribes, Coalition members say that the proposal will waste valuable water that is currently recharging an aquifer serving City wells, harm relationships and commerce with tribal members, impact the Peaks’ rare high elevation habitat, tarnish Northern Arizona’s reputation as a culturally rich and diverse area and bring little economic return to the City of Flagstaff.

“The DEIS itself acknowledges that Snowbowl’s contribution to Flagstaff’s economy is negligible.” Said Roxane George. “We are not willing to see the amazing spiritual, scenic, cultural and good neighbor values of the Peaks traded to increase profits for one private business.”

There will be a Save The Peaks Coalition Solidarity March beginning at 10:00 am at the NAU Student Union. The march will proceed down Milton Road to City Hall. There will be a short prayer vigil at 10:30 a.m. at the Flagstaff City Hall steps. People of all faiths are welcome.