Ongoing Navajo struggle for the land: sometimes it takes only one’s act of resistance to halt development
By Brenda Norrell
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Navajo Klee Benally chained himself to heavy equipment on Snowbowl Road on Saturday, as an excavator continued destroying sacred San Francisco Peaks during a morning prayer gathering of Native Americans and supporters.
The destruction is part of the development of Arizona Snowbowl ski resort, which is digging into the earth and clearcutting for a pipeline to carry sewage water for snowmaking on the sacred mountains.
While Klee Benally was chained to an excavator, he said, « Here we draw the line, here we say no more! »
« You are criminals. You allow the desecration of our sacred. You threaten our cultural survival.
« What part of sacred don’t you understand, » Benally said. His words were repeated by supporters gathered at the site as police arrived and a forest service officer emerged from the woods who had been videotaping them.
Benally, chained to the excavator, said, « This is not a game. This is not for show. This is not for media. This is to stop this desecration from happening. »
« 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!' »
Those words were resounded by other Native Americans gathered to halt the destruction.
Flagstaff author Mary Sojourner and Protect the Peaks police liaison Rudy Preston were arrested at the scene. Preston was charged with two counts of disorderly conduct and one count of trespassing.
Sojourner was charged late Saturday at the Coconino County Jail. Preston and Sojourner were bailed out of jail late Saturday. Benally was cited for disorderly conduct and released.
Klee Benally is internationally know as the lead singer of the Navajo family band Blackfire and longtime organizer of efforts to save San Francisco Peaks from destruction.
Mary Sojourner is the author of two novels, Sisters of the Dream and Going Through Ghosts; the short story collection, Delicate; essay collection, Bonelight: ruin and grace in the New Southwest; memoirs, Solace: rituals of loss and desire and She Bets Her Life.
In Flagstaff, Russell Crawford said the Protect the Peaks movement resonates around the world.
« There are lots of folks in Flagstaff right now supporting the efforts to stop destruction and desecration on the Holy San Francisco Peaks. Some are camping in the woods, bearing witness to the pipeline excavation, and some are in town providing legal and other forms of support. Additionally, there are thousands of people from around the world who are also acting in solidarity with those in Flagstaff. Last but not least, there are also all those who are struggling to protect sacred sites and the environment, who are directly connected to those in northern Arizona. From Australia to the Arctic, Appalachia to the fields of Ireland, liberated Zapatista territories to occupied O’odham lands, Big Mountain to Yucca Mountain, and beyond, » Crawford said.
Before today’s action, 17 people were arrested in the past eight days, as Navajo, Hualapai, Hopi, O’odham and other Native Americans have been protesting the destruction of the sacred mountains.
Tourists are being asked to boycott the Arizona Snowbowl, which is owned by Eric Borowsky of Scottsdale.
During a week of action, Protect the Peaks protested outside the US Forest Service, Flagstaff City Hall and High Desert Investment Company. High Desert Investment Company, responsible for the clearcutting San Francisco Peaks, is owned by G Allen Ribelin, who also owns High Investment Logging in Flagstaff.
Already, there is clearcutting of the old growth forests for the pipeline and tourist developments.
Native American youths have been willing to be arrested to halt the destruction.