The Hopi Way may vanish so skiers can play
Arizona Republic
Sept. 23, 2005

Wayne Taylor
My Turn

Since ancient times Hopi people have regarded the San Francisco Peaks as "Nuvatukyaovi," which in the Hopi language means "place of snow on the peaks."

Nuvatukyaovi is central to Hopi culture and religion. It is the home of Katsina spirits who, in the growing season, drift as clouds from the Peaks and descend on my homeland, bringing rain, hope and guidance to the Hopi people.

Hopi children are initiated into Katsina societies, which teach them to live humble, respectful lives, in balance with all living and non-living things; values at the heart of a life path known as the Hopi Way.

Of course, American Indians are a conquered people. Since Spanish and European settlement we have lost lives, most of our land and much of our culture and traditions.

Sacred artifacts and burial remains were confiscated by collectors and archeologists. Religious pieces essential to Hopi ceremonies were taken from our villages. As a result, some rituals integral to the Hopi religion are no longer performed.

Generations of reservation poverty, federal paternalism and pressures of modern society have made it difficult for the First Americans to retain our way of life.

Federal policy toward Native Americans evolved from conquest to removal from ancestral land and assimilation into non-Indian society. Indian school children were punished for speaking their native language.

So it came as little surprise that the U.S. Forest Service, an agent of a federal government with trust responsibility for native nations, recently decided to desecrate the sacred relationship with Nuvatukyaovi held by Hopi people and 12 other Indian tribes. The Forest Service last March ruled that wastewater can be piped to Nuvatukyaovi for the purpose of making artificial snow, so more people can ski the Peaks.

The decision was devastating to my people. Hopi clans and religious societies have shrines on the Peaks. We visit the area to deposit prayer offerings and collect herbs and plants for ceremonies.

Our attorneys will argue in U.S. District Court on Oct. 6 that the Forest Service did not consider the psychological and cultural impact using wastewater to make snow would have on Native Americans who worship the Peaks.

The federal government must meet its trust responsibility to Indian tribes.

We lost our ancestors and nearly all our aboriginal lands. Our culture was stolen from us. Can the federal government now strip us of our religions?

Is it right for the federal government, as trustee for native people, to sacrifice the religious and spiritual beliefs of 300,000 Native Americans so 20,000 people can ski?

I am saddened over what may happen to Hopi people if we are not allowed to preserve and protect our way of life.

I am concerned for the generations of Hopis who may be robbed of their culture and spiritual identity.

Majol Honanie of the Hopi village of Hotevilla was initiated into the Katsina Society in 2001 at the age of 13.

Majol realizes how strongly the physical and spiritual health of Hopi people is tied to our ability to maintain the Peaks as a sacred home of the Katsinam.

"When the Katsinas come to our villages, we say our prayers to them and they carry them to the Peaks," Majol says. "This is what I have been taught and this is what I respect today.

"Snowmaking will pollute the land and water and will affect the birds, animals and people. The Katsinam may abandon their home. Our clan roles will vanish.

So, too, will our way of life."

The writer is chairman of the Hopi Tribe.