Court ruling permits Arizona Snowbowl the ability to make snow using reclaimed wastewater

Dear Editor,

After an extensive legal battle to protect culture, religion and the environment, Arizona tribes lost one of the most important battles in recent history.

On August 8, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision to permit the Arizona Snowbowl to manufacture artificial snow using reclaimed wastewater on the San Francisco Peaks. The ruling was issued despite the Yavapai-Apache Nation and other Arizona tribes’ pleas with the United States to protect the Peaks from cultural, spiritual and religious desecration.

Thomas Beauty, Chairman of the Yavapai-Apache Nation, said, “This is one of the most tragic moments in recent history for Arizona tribes. The United States court system supports the desecration of a cultural and religious location and has not only disregarded the Religious Freedoms Act and other environmental issues, but has totally abandoned the United States trust commitment and responsibility to Indian tribes.”

Over the past several years, the Yavapai-Apache Nation and other tribes including the Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, Havasupai Tribe, Hualapai Tribe and the White Mountain Apache Tribe have expressed concern that the approval of plans to use reclaimed wastewater to manufacture artificial snow is significant violation to tribal spiritual beliefs, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act and the ecological integrity of the Peaks. The recent judgment of the 9th Circuit Court demonstrates that religion and the environment are secondary to development and tourism. 


In March 2007, the Arizona tribes were victorious in a ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, when the Court issued a decision to protect the sacred San Francisco Peaks from the U.S. Forest Service’s approval for the Arizona Snowbowl’s plan to expand its 777-acre facility and implement the use of treated sewage to make artificial snow.

The ruling noted that the Forest Service’s approval of the proposed expansion and use of treated sewage to make artificial snow violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and lacks the Forest Service’s obligation to fully comply with NEPA standards.

“To the Yavapai-Apache Nation, the Peaks are referred to as Dzil-cho and A’Wiih Moonih. The holy mountain has significant spiritual and cultural values. It is the home of our Gaan (deities), northern foundation of our world, place where our prayers are emanated to God, and because of its power the medicinal herbs gathered there are more powerful.

“To desecrate this holy place with water that contains the presence of human and veterinary antibiotics, caffeine, codeine, oral contraceptives and other hormones, steroids, solvents, etc., is an affront to the holy Creator. One judge’s concern in the previous ruling was that young children could potentially consume the artificial snow containing the treated waste bi-products. This decision totally disregards our future, which is our children and their health. It is a shame that the dollar prevails,” Vincent Randall, former Chairman of the Yavapai-Apache Nation, stated.

Judge Carlos Bea, Circuit Judge for the majority, issued the following statement, “A government action which decreases the spirituality, the fervor, or the satisfaction with which a believer practices his religion is not what Congress has labeled a ‘substantial burden’ – a term of art chosen by Congress to be defined by reference to Supreme Court precedent. ”

Chairman Beauty stated, “The Yavapai-Apache Nation has never given up on its attempt to maintain its sovereignty, protect tribal lands or ensure that the United States uphold its trust obligations to Indian tribes. While this is a very disappointing ruling for Arizona tribes, I am confident that we will all work towards the protection of our holy and religious sites.”

The Yavapai-Apache Nation is a sovereign Native American tribe from the Verde Valley.

Tribal members have two culturally distinct backgrounds and speak two Indigenous languages. Today, the Yavapai-Apache Nation thrives on a reservation that spans over 1,800 acres in the four communities of Camp Verde, Middle Verde, Clarkdale, and Rimrock.

The Nation proudly owns and operates Cliff Castle Casino, Arizona’s #1 casino for nine consecutive years, Yavapai-Apache Construction, Yavapai-Apache Sand & Gravel and Yavapai-Apache Gaming, an enterprise that has successfully completed four start-up casinos nationwide.

Additionally, the Nation distributes more that a quarter of a million dollars every year to Northern Arizona communities in the form of charitable donations, sponsorships, Prop 202 Revenue distributions and higher education scholarships.

For additional information on the Yavapai-Apache Nation, please contact the Office of Public Relations at (928) 567-1006.

Sincereley, Yavapai-Apache Public Relations