Indians Argue Against Ski Resort Plan

The Associated Press
Friday, September 15, 2006; 1:14 AM

SAN FRANCISCO -- Attorneys for Southwestern Indian tribes urged a federal appeals court Thursday to block the proposed expansion of an Arizona ski resort they say already desecrates land they hold sacred and sullies their religious beliefs.

During the hearing, a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals appeared skeptical about allowing Arizona Snowbowl to become the nation's first ski resort to use 100 percent reclaimed water _ treated sewage _ to make snow.

Hopi attorney Scott Canty said it is up to the deities, not man, to make snow.

"To usurp their authority is a crime, an insult," he said. "It desecrates the entire mountain that the Hopi believe is a living entity."

The tribes say Snowbowl is an affront to their religion and its existence may have caused the Sept. 11 attacks and other universal calamities. The resort, one of two in the state, might go out of business because of a lack of snowfall.

The 777-acre resort rests on the western flank of the San Francisco Peaks that have spiritual and religious meaning to 13 tribes in the Southwest.

The resort wants to add a fifth lift, spray man-made snow and tear down and groom about 100 acres of forest to attract more skiers and increase the number of skiing days. U.S. District Judge Paul Rosenblatt of Phoenix ruled in January the tribes "failed to present any objective evidence that their exercise of religion will be impacted by the Snowbowl upgrades." The tribes appealed.

Janice Schneider, a lawyer for the resort, told the court there would be 82 signs warning skiers the snow is generated from "reclaimed water."

But judges appeared concerned about the snow, particularly because they had no studies showing how it would affect skiers. Judge William Fletcher wondered whether skiers would understand "that reclaimed water is treated sewage" and also wondered how much snow a skier might ingest during a "faceplant."

Jack Trope, a Hualapai attorney, said the man-made snow also could melt into a nearby spring the tribe uses for healing ceremonies. Once it touches the spring, he said, using those waters is akin to "committing spiritual malpractice."

Outside the hearing, dozens of American Indians, some wearing traditional garb, burned sage, drummed, chanted and held signs that read "Save the Peaks." Inside, the courtroom was filled to capacity, mostly with Indians, many of whom had traveled from Arizona to attend the hearing.

"Their plans to make snow, if allowed, would be cultural genocide," said Kelvin Long, a Navajo who lives in Flagstaff, Ariz.

© 2006 The Associated Press