Flagstaff & Navajo Nation Seek To Heal Race Relations

March 27, 2012

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- The city of Flagstaff and the Navajo Nation will sign an agreement to improve race relations at a time when tensions between the communities are high.

After a long legal battle that went to the Supreme Court, the city is now selling reclaimed wastewater to make snow at a ski resort. The resort is located on a mountain sacred to the tribe.

Flagstaff Mayor Sara Presler says the Navajo tribe was left out of the decision. The city approved the sale of reclaimed wastewater before she was elected.

The says she hopes to be part of the healing process.

"We wind up in a position where there’s considerable frustration because folks on the front end weren’t listened to in the first place," Presler said. "They weren’t heard in the process. There wasn’t an understanding of the significance of the culture involved."

Photo courtesy indigenousaction.org
Klee Benally, a member of the Navajo Nation, chains himself to an excavator on the San Francisco Peaks to stop the ski resort from building a pipeline that would pump reclaimed waste water on the mountain he calls sacred.

The debate has been so intense that back in September Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly asked the United Nations Human Rights Council for help.

"The waste water will contaminate the soil and vegetation and interfere with our ceremonies and prayer," Shelly told the council. "Such a contamination will prevent our traditional medicine men and women from effectively treating their patients."

But snowmaking is only one of the many issues the tribe is addressing through these agreements. Flagstaff’s pact is the sixth with towns surrounding the vast reservation.

The head of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission says the agreement is based on the UN’s standards for the rights of indigenous people around the world. And his dream is to see the current non-binding agreement become a binding treaty globally.