Contesting Sacred Peaks

CasesNavajo Nation et al. v. USFS et al., 408 F. Supp. 2d 866, 905 (D.AZ.2006); Navajo Nation v. U.S. Forest Service, 479 F.3d 1024 (2007); Navajo Nation et. al. v. United States Forest Service, 535 F.3d 1058 (2008).

US Forest Service Southwest Region Tonto National Forest, “Findings of No Significant Impact (FONSI), Decision Notice and Non-significant Plan Amendment. Payson Ranger District Administrative Site Sale and Facilities  (August 09, 2013).

Case Synopsis: Despite the longstanding recognition that Hopi religion demands an ethic, practice, and commitment toward stewardship of lands both on and off the contemporary Hopi Reservation, repeated attempts by Hopi to practice their religion on US National Forest lands have been thwarted by US officials. Two recent examples of conflict between Hopi and federal officials over the use of public lands reveal how the very laws and policies designed to protect Hopi religion may in fact hinder it. One of these conflicts involves the litigation initiated in the last decades of the 20th century by Hopi and other tribal nations in the region to stop the US Forest service from approving artificial snowmaking at a ski resort in the Coconino National Forest, outside Flagstaff, Arizona. Another conflict considers the circumstances surrounding the 2013 sale of lands in the Tonto National Forest near Payson, Arizona, and the efforts by the Hopi tribe to consult with US Forest Service officials about the significance of archaeological sites discovered within the sale lands. This case module originated in the work of Justin Richland.

Image of Nuvatukya’ovi (San Francisco Peaks, lit trans. “Snow-on-top-of-it”) by Brady Smith, courtesy USDA Forest Service


Navajo Nation et al. vs. USFS (2007)

This opinion reverses the decision in Navajo Nation v. U.S. Forest Serv., 408 F. Supp. 2d 866, 907 (D. Ariz. 2006), which held that the expansion of the Snowball’s facilities did not violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

Navajo Nation et al. vs. USFS (2008)

This opinion holds that the expansion of the Snowball does not violate RFRA.

USFS Payson Ranger District Finding of No Significant Impact (2013)

This document holds that the Payson Site Sale project will not have a significant impact on the “human environment.”

Hopi Religious Freedom in Hopitutskwa

Justin B. Richland, “Paths In the Wilderness?: The Politics and Practices of Hopi Religious Freedom in Hopitutskwa,” Maryland Journal of International Law 31, no. 1 (2017): 217-243.

In the Light of Reverence

2001 film that documents efforts on the part of different Indigenous American groups to protect sacred sites

Indigenous Voices of the Colorado Plateau

Digital resources related to the “Save the Peaks!” efforts of the 1970s

USDA Forest Service: Payson Administrative Site Sale

Website with documentation concerning the 2013 Tonto National Forest land sale

Ktunaxa Nation v. British Columbia, 2017 SCC 54

2017 decision from Supreme Court of Canada allowing construction of ski resort on land sacred to First Nations

The Category of Indigenous Religion

 Bjørn Ola Tafjord, “Indigenous Religion(s) as an Analytical Category,” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 25.3 (2013): 221-243.

Native American Religions and Colonialism

Sarah Dees, “Native American Religions,” Oxford Research Encyclopedia on Religion (2018): 1-14.

Law and Native American Sacred Sites

Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, “Imagining ‘Law-Stuff’ at the Newark Earthworks,” in The Newark Earthworks: Enduring Monuments, Contested Meanings, edited by Lindsay Jones and Richard D. Siels (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2018), 277-87.