Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Navajo Nation Calls on Obama to Intervene in Commercial Development that Will Desecrate the Sacred San Francisco Peaks

[Editor's Note: Having lost an en banc (full panel) decision in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and filed a petition for certiorari (review) with the U.S. Supreme Court, which has issued rulings in the past that have curtailed the religious rights of Indian tribes in favor of commercial interests, the Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, Havasupai Tribe, White Mountain Apache Tribe, Yavapai-Apache Nation and the Hualapai Tribe are now very close to exhausting their judicial remedies. Recognizing this, the Navajo Nation Council, meeting at Window Rock, Navajo Nation (Arizona) on April 22, 2009, passed a resolution calling on President Obama to honor the commitments he made to the Indian Peoples of this nation during his presidential campaign.

They remind him not only of the commitments he made to give Native Americans a voice in Washington D.C. and to honor the government to government relationship that exists between the U.S. and tribal governments and the treaties that have been drawn between them, but also of the United States' obligations under International treaties and conventions concerning the fundamental human right to the practice of one's religious beliefs. This right is about to be extinguished for the thirteen southwestern who hold Dook' o' oosliid (San Francisco Peaks) to be sacred ground.

The resolution calls on Obama to direct administration officials to meet with representatives of the Navajo Nation and other Indian nations and tribes to find a mutually agreeable way to protect Native American sacred sites from desecration and destruction. Alternatively, it asks Obama to "aggressively champion" congressional legislation to protect Native American sacred sites.

A copy of the resolution can be found in .pdf format at: http://www.indigenousaction.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/CAP-16-09.pdf Our thanks to IndigenousAction.org for making the resolution available to the public on their website. -- Perry H. Chesnut, Editor NRN]

Tribes look to Obama for protection of sacred peaks

Gallup Independent
By Kathy Helms
Diné Bureau

WINDOW ROCK — The Navajo Nation Council has given its approval for the Nation’s attorneys and leaders to meet with the Obama administration in hopes of working out a settlement to protect the sacred San Francisco Peaks from desecration.

The Nation is seeking an expedited meeting prior to May 8, when the U.S. Solicitor General’s response brief is due to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In “Navajo Nation v. United States Forest Service,” the Nation and three other tribes challenged the Forest Service’s approval of an expansion of the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort on the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The expansion included using reclaimed sewer water to make artificial snow, which in the view of Indian religious practitioners, desecrates the mountain.

In 2008, the 9th Circuit, in an en banc decision, held that the Forest Service’s approval did not violate the tribes religious freedom because the proposal does not place a substantial burden on their exercise of religion by forcing them to act contrary to their religion under the threat of a legal penalty or choose between their religion and the receipt of a government benefit.

Delegate Leonard Tsosie said it is feared that the Supreme Court will take the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in the wrong way, “because they’re somewhat not sentimental to Indian cases.” The high court previously has withdrawn or denied First Amendment rights to tribes when it comes to federal land-management decisions.

The San Francisco Peaks, or Dook’o’oosliid, the sacred mountain to the west, is one of four mountains held holy by the Navajo people and 12 other Arizona tribes. Mount Taylor, or Tsoodzil, the sacred mountain to the south, is threatened by uranium mining.

The Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, Yavapai-Apache Nation, the Havasupai, White Mountain Apache, Hualapai and others filed suit in federal court to stop what is viewed as a “government-sponsored desecration of a well-documented sacred and holy site.”

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act represents the last chance for the Navajo Nation and tribes across the country to protect their sovereignty, practice their religions, and to survive as a people, according to the emergency legislation sponsored by Tsosie and passed, 60-2, last week by Council. Edward Jim and Lawrence Platero voted against the measure.

The Nation has turned to President Barack Obama, who during his election campaign committed to honoring the government-to-government relationship between tribes and the federal government, ensuring that treaty obligations are met and that tribes will have a voice in Washington.

“What this does is it allows our lawyers and also our leaders to sit down with the Obama Administration and look at the possibility of settling the San Francisco Peaks (case) in favor of the Navajo Nation because the lawsuit is ‘Navajo Nation v. U.S. Forest Service,’ and the U.S. Forest Service is being represented by the U.S. government lawyers which the U.S. government has control over,” Tsosie said.

Delegate Ervin Keeswood told Council there also is a need to indicate that there are instruments of international law to which the Nation could resort.

“I believe that it’s time to start quoting and also remind the United States’ government of these actions internationally.

At some point in time ... we may have to go to the international community for resolution of some of these matters if they’re not heard as we wish in the United States government,” he said.

Delegate Rex Lee Jim, the Nation’s “international representative” at the United Nations, received approval for an amendment to the legislation.

The amendment cites religious rights contained in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man supported by the Organization of American States, of which the United States is a member. It also refers to religious rights contained in the American Convention on Human Rights, signed by the United States in 1977.

In September 2007, the United Nations adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, by which the international community has made the effort to strengthen partnership with states, indigenous people and civil society as a whole.

The declaration recognized that “indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.”

The United States is one of four states that voted against the declaration.

“Without such commitment by the United States to protect the rights of its indigenous peoples, sadly the protection of holy and sacred sites such as Dook’o’oosliid will continue to yield to commercial interests,” the amendment states.

The Navajo Nation is formally requesting that Obama, on behalf of the United States and its indigenous peoples, sign the declaration without delay and stand firm with its commitment to protect and preserve holy and sacred sites of indigenous people within the United States.

Article: Copyright © 2009 Gallup Independent
Photo courtesy of Arizona Emporium

Native Rights News is making this material available in accordance with the Fair Use Doctrine codified at Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information. Distribution of this material is for research and educational purposes that will promote social and economic justice and benefit society.
Native Rights News (NRN) is published by the Alliance for Indigenous Rights, a nonprofit corporation owned and operated by Temple Beit Shem Tov as part of its Peace and Justice Ministry.

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