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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: San Francisco | Environment & Forest Defense
Sacred Places Legal Battle Returns to SF's Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals; January 9th
CA Indigenous Peoples Demonstrate Heartfelt Support For Plaintiffs Fighting Imminent Desecration of Sacred AZ Mountain!
Long-Standing Legal Battle Returns to SF's Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - California tribal members will rally today in support of plaintiffs in the latest court battle to prevent the further desecration of the San Francisco Peaks, a mountain in Northern Arizona that is held sacred by over 13 Indigenous Nations. Supporters from a number of Native nations, environmental groups, as well as concerned individuals, are expected to gather for a Sunrise Prayer Vigil Ceremony, followed by a march to the James R. Browning U.S. Courthouse- 9th Circuit at 95 7th Street, San Francisco for the 9:30am hearing. A press conference will take place at approximately 10:15AM, immediately after the hearing on the steps of the courthouse.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will be hearing arguments that the US Forest Service, in its Environmental Impact Statement, failed to adequately consider the dangerous health and environmental impacts associated with the planned use of artificial snow made from reclaimed sewer water. Studies have proven that the treated water contains toxic substances such as pharmaceutical by-products. Native Americans consider the use of sewage on the sacred San Francisco Peaks to be an offensive desecration of their holy grounds.
The Sunrise Prayer Vigil will be held at Yerba Buena gardens, which sits atop the remains of a sacred shellmound, to welcome the plaintiffs onto Ohlone land.
“The Sacred San Francisco Peaks affects us all. We’re going to continue this fight no matter what the ruling is. We have to be the voices for our ancestors, to remember our teachings. We cannot afford to give one more inch to the developers. We as Indigenous people in the United States simply desire to have safeguards for our religious and cultural freedom, as well as the land and the health of our children," states Corrina Gould, a local Chochenyo/Karkin Ohlone activist.
Hundreds of people, the majority of them from the local Native community, expressed a similar show of solidarity in 2006, when the San Francisco Peaks case entered the Ninth Circuit San Francisco courthouse on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The latest hearing comes amidst a tumultuous year of local Indigenous struggles that frequently made breaking news.
Morning Star Gali of the Pit River Tribe explains: “The battle to protect the San Francisco peaks in Arizona is the same fight against cultural genocide that we are waging here in California to save our sacred places. From this summer’s spiritual encampment to protect Sogorea Te/Glen Cove in Vallejo, CA, to the Bureau of Land Management backed Calpine Corporation’s proposed desecration of Medicine Lake, and millionaire developer John Nady’s flagrant destruction of Rattlesnake Island in Clear Lake, CA, the message is clear. Native peoples must unite to preserve our religious and cultural freedoms- ones that the rest of society takes for granted.”
The implications of these cases extend to the lives of all peoples as most instances of sacred site desecration concurrently involve environmental destruction that ultimately threatens human health. The toxic legacy of California’s Gold Rush has left Native peoples’ lands, now inhabited by all Californians, riddled with deadly mercury. The endocrine disruptors that will flood the area of Flagstaff, AZ if proposed snowmaking plans move forward exemplify present day environmental racism.
“Mercury mining has left a legacy of environmental disasters that continue to negatively impact the traditional life ways and fishing economy, and contaminate the headwaters of oldest Lake in Northern California. This is destroying the Elem people's mental health and spiritual wellness, and creating inter-tribal turmoil,” laments Jim Brown of the Elem Pomo Nation.
As Caleen Sisk Franco Spiritual Leader and Tribal Chief of the Winnemem Wintu explains, “For the Winnemem, the destruction of sacred sites is more than just about the poisons and toxins. When you destroy a sacred place, you destroy the hearts of the people. We believe we need our sacred sites and relationships with them in order for us to grow to be good people. When you destroy a sacred site, it hurts our spiritual belief and our physical development of that site. That's a different kind of poisoning that occurs even before the toxins have any effect.”
Native Americans consider clear-cutting of rare alpine forest by the U.S. Forest Service for the expansion of a for-profit ski business on the sacred San Francisco Peaks and the use of sewage water for the planned snow production to be an offensive desecration of their holy grounds. For decades numerous strategies, including long-standing campaigns, boycotts, prayer gatherings, direct actions, and litigation, have been employed by many citizens, tribes, and organizations who have strived to protect the mountain. The Hopi tribe and Navajo Nation governments have also passed resolutions and pursued their own litigation to prevent the desecration of the sacred San Francisco Peaks.
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