“Spiritual Feelings” Aren’t Worth A Million Dollars, Sorry

Categories: Environmental Rights and Justice, Green Consumerism

San Francisco Peaks

What the hell?  This is a case that highlights the inherent problems in basing a socioeconomic system primarily on increasing market access and unceasing capitalist growth.

Take this case: the Snowbowl Ski Resort in Arizona wants to expand the size of its ski resort.  It has a $12 million dollar plan to create fake snow in the San Francisco Peaks – north of Flagstaff – using recycled sewage and waste water.  However, the Peaks are also sacred land for (among others) the Hopi, Navajo, and Havasupai Nations.  In a suit brought by various Native American Nations against the Snowbowl, a 3-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals explicitly recognized that the Peaks “are sacred to at least thirteen formally recognized Indian tribes, and that this religious significance is of centuries’ duration” (pdf). 

To be sure, there are environmental implications in using wastewater as snow.  Chemicals from pharmaceuticals, cleaning products, and pesticides can be persistent organic pollutants (POPs).  They tend to be long-lived, accumulate in living organisms, and some – such as atrazine – are endocrine disruptors.  But the panel specifically mentioned the religious implications of using poop water on the sacred ground of all these Nations, noting that this would violate their religious freedom.

However, in an appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court re-heard the case en banc, and in an 8-3 decision, reversed this claim.  This time, they found that the proposed development would do little more than damage “spiritual feelings,” and “give one religious sect a veto” over public lands.  Good news for the developer, who noted that “A healthy business economy is good for everybody. That’s just an economic reality.”

So there you have it.  Economic development and “progress” trump the religious freedom and rights of Nations.  Maybe it’s their own bad luck to have a religion based around the adoration of nature and the outdoors, considering that these are prime spots for real estate.  Even though balancing developmental needs and environmental claims can be really difficult, I’m not sure we’re served by having a system that posits recreation is more important, and has more legal standing than centuries old beliefs.  Well, it seems that the Native American Nations have an ancient and marvelous culture.

For me to poop on.

(Sign this petition, and take it to the White House).

About Kemi Fuentes-George

I am a professor in environmental studies and political science at Middlebury College.

One Response to “Spiritual Feelings” Aren’t Worth A Million Dollars, Sorry

  1. Trotter Oberrender says:

    After all that has happened in the past between the United States and Native Americans, you would think that we would have learned something or at least gained some respect for their culture and beliefs. It astounds me that even after all the US has taken from them during the growth and expansion of our country, we continue to take what is sacred to them. The only difference now is that our reason for doing so has weakened all the way to recreation. The addition of extra slopes to the Arizona Snowbowl will not effect many, but the destruction of these sacred peaks will effect the Hopi, Navajo, and Havasupai Nations greatly in a very negative way.