The international Idle No More movement hit Arizona this week, in a freshly charged protest at Flagstaff City Hall over snowmaking with treated effluent at Arizona Snowbowl, a ski resort on the sacred San Francisco Peaks.
Flagstaff residents are accustomed to seeing Snowbowl protesters on the City Hall lawn – the most recent demonstration was just before Christmas, to coincide with Snowbowl’s opening day. But this week’s gathering on January 8 carried a bit more energy. For starters, the activists didn’t just hold signs; they opened the day in a circle of prayer and song. And the event drew a fuller-than-usual crowd.
About 50 participants lamented Arizona Snowbowl as an example of the sort of disrespect toward indigenous beliefs that has galvanized the Idle No More movement.
Shonto Begay, a well-known Navajo painter, writer and cultural activist in Flagstaff, took his turn in the circle to note how today’s society seems to fit the Navajo concept of a series of occupied worlds.
“Each of the four worlds has been abandoned. Each of the four worlds has been taken away, because of the inhabitants’ disrespect,” he said. “I think we’re ready to step into the fifth world. I think we need to step into the fifth world with our hearts pure.”
James Peshlakai, a traditional Navajo elder and founder of the Cameron, Arizona-based Peshlakai Cultural Foundation, made a hasty retreat after his turn in the circle. Borrowing the powerful drum of Navajo activist Klee Benally, Peshlakai sang a song with difficulty after he began to feel an unusual sensation.
“My voice started vibrating in the drum. It started vibrating and I could feel it coming back off the drum,” he said. “I almost threw the drum. I almost ran away from there.”
Later, Peshlakai said he was “freaked out” by the experience, and wondered if he had offended the Holy People. But numerous friends who had attended the protest reassured him: “The activities surrounding Idle No More have some very powerful forces,” wrote one woman, on his Facebook page. “We had a devotional this past weekend here, and we felt this same energy too. The drum is simply in harmony with Mother Earth, and is advocating on HER behalf as well.”
In other Arizona Snowbowl news, Klee Benally, Navajo, and three other activists will appear in U.S. District court today, January 10 for a pre-trial conference stemming from charges that they interfered with business at the Flagstaff offices of the U.S. Forest Service during a protest there in late September. Arizona Snowbowl’s activities are conducted on acreage leased from the Coconino National Forest, which approved the permit for the use of the reclaimed water.