By Wells Mahkee Jr.
This comes to light after the state of New Mexico placed Mt. Taylor--another mountain held sacred by at least 30 tribes--on their State Register of Cultural Properties on June 5 to protect it from exploratory drilling and possible uranium mining. Incidentally, both Mt. Taylor and the San Francisco Peaks are used by tribes from both New Mexico and Arizona as a place of worship.
At the center of this controversial issue is the fact that the Ninth Circuit Court's previous ruling states that use of reclaimed sewage water to make artificial snow wouldn't "substantially burden" a tribe's exercise of religion, as defined in the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA). The Act also states that if there is a substantial burden on the exercise of religion, then there must be a "compelling public need" that outweighs the religious burden in order for this decision to be reversed. So what is the burden, you may ask?
The claim says that using reclaimed sewage water for snowmaking won't affect any religious ceremonies that tribes wish to conduct on the Peaks and that the sacred mountains would still be accessible to tribes to conduct such ceremonies. Opponents, however, have been saying all along that it's basically like saying the Catholic church (or any church, for that matter) can substitute reclaimed sewage water for holy water and continue to conduct their religious ceremonies without subterfuge. That's pretty much saying that "water is water" and that those ceremonials that require the use of holy water won't be affected.
Visually, the Peaks may not look like a church, but they are revered and sanctified as such by the different tribes.
For more on the subject, see:
Snowbowl battle continues
"Reclaim the Peaks" from Indians
Ski resort vs. Native religion