Direct Action to Protect Holy Peaks Continues
by Klee Benally
On Saturday, August 13th 2011, after a prayerful gathering on the Holy San Francisco Peaks, my friends Mary Sojourner, Rudy Preston and I were arrested by “law enforcement” agents for standing against desecration and eco-cide caused by the Arizona Snowbowl ski area. Since June 16th, 26 arrests have been made during protests when Snowbowl started its current desecration of the Holy Peaks.
As a Snowbowl-hired excavator operator tore into sacred earth, plants, and boulders to extend the wastewater pipeline trench further up the Holy Mountain, 40 people gathered in prayer in a meadow directly across from the excavation. At times, bulldozers and the excavator were no more than 200 feet from the gathering, so the machinery made it nearly impossible for elders to speak. The noise completely disrupted statements and prayers made by those in attendance.
Although I am not sure how it started, shortly after the prayer gathering a group of 30 people started pushing rocks and dug-up dirt into the pipeline trench. As I watched from a distance, every rock being placed back in the trench — to heal the scarring of desecration — appeared more powerful than any petition I’ve ever read.
Two Forest Service agents, who had apparently been monitoring the prayer gathering, emerged from the woods as the spontaneous action unfolded.
At that point I approached the excavator operator and stated, “Stop. You have interrupted and interfered with our prayers. You must stop.” I then chained and handcuffed myself to stop the excavator.
I was joined by more than 30 people who began chanting and singing. We sang in a way that was a continuation of our prayers. I was chained to the machine for approximately 2 hours.
Forest Service and Coconino County Sheriffs ultimately cut me out after Louise Benally, from Big Mountain, agreed that it was OK for me to do so. I was charged by a sheriff for “trespassing” and “disorderly conduct.”
How can I be “trespassing” on this site that is so sacred to me? This is my church. It is the Forest Service and Snowbowl who are violating human rights and religious freedom by desecrating this holy Mountain. Although an appeal is in the court system Snowbowl is attempting to undermine judicial process. Additionally, Snowbowl and the Forest Service are violating the 2004 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that was signed with Indigenous Nations. This MOA stipulates consultation must occur prior to any construction, this has not meaningfully occurred, if at has occurred at all. Not to mention, the Forest Service and Snowbowl are in violation of the Environmental Impact Statement, as they have followed none of the mitigation measures either. Their actions are far beyond “disorderly.”
After my arrest and release, Mary Sojourner who is a local author and activist, confronted Forest Service and Coconino County Sheriffs. She walked up to the excavator in an effort to stop pipeline construction and was immediately cuffed and put into a police van.
Mary stated, “I took action not just for the Mountain, but for my friend, Klee Benally, who I saw chained to a monstrous extractor, the pipeline trenching machine that had been ripping into the mountain and the peaceful morning air as thirty of us prayed for the Mountain; and so that older women and men would see that one doesn’t have to be young to stand up for a place and community that you love.”
Rudy Preston, local Peaks advocate, was also arrested and charged with two counts of “disorderly conduct” and “trespassing.”
Rudy offered this statement: “I feel like the world changed forever yesterday. Our actions on Nuvatukya Ovi (San Francisco Peaks in Hopi) have led to me seeing the true horrors perpetuated on the Indigenous cultures of our community every single day. Even without sewer water on the mountain, the desecration is a systematic perpetuation of genocide on local peoples for centuries and it is just as strong now as when peoples were forced onto the Longest Walk. My eyes will never again close to this injustice. And my body will not perpetuate it. ”
“All that has happened in the last month was made possible by like-minded individuals taking action of all kinds,” Rudy continued. “I hope that others move out of their comfort zone a bit and create actions that reflect their part in this. Not everyone can march in the streets, not everyone can lock down, not everyone has a car. But we all love the mountain and you don’t need to wait for a ‘known organizer’ to tell you what to do next.”
As I was chained to the excavator I said, “This is not a game. This is not for show. This is not for the media. This is to stop this desecration from happening.”
While construction was only stopped for about 2 hours, it was stopped nonetheless. This is power. This is a power that we all share. If one person, three, six, or nine, can stand in the way of machinery and say “enough,” imagine what would happen if it was every one of us who cared?
What is at stake is our prayers, our ways of life, our cultural survival. This is why this has to stop. This is why we say, “No desecration for recreation — Protect the Peaks!”
Klee Benally is a musician, activist, and filmmaker. Learn more about his cinematic work, about his band Blackfire, and about his ongoing projects. For more information about the Peaks, visit: www.indigenousaction.org or www.truesnow.org.