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Bill Brown

A complicated man.

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There’s been a lot of controversy lately up north because of Snow Bowl’s decision to use snow machines at the prominent Flagstaff, Arizona ski resort. The purpose of such machines is to even out the unpredictable fluctuations in snow density. In previous years, snow has been spotty and the tourism industry has suffered accordingly. As the nearest ski resort to Phoenix, months without snow have tremendous impact on both the resort and the local economy.

What sort of controversy might arise from such an action? Turns out that one of the mountains of Snow Bowl is sacred to the Navajo tribe. The president of the Navajos—I would think he’d call himself chief or something less non-Indian—is calling the Forest Service’s decision “genocide.” Here’s where things get a little hazy: it’s not “demeaning” to have skiers traipsing on your sacred mountain but spraying frozen waste water periodically is “systematic and planned extermination of an entire ethnic group.”

I know politicians are prone to hyperbole. Their rhetoric is generally overstated and overblown. But I’ve never heard one of them bandy about the term “genocide” as casually as Mr. Shirley has. The mountain in question isn’t even located on reservation land and is, as far as I can tell, unoccupied. All of the articles I’ve read on this subject make no mention of U.S. Forest Service or Snow Bowl stormtroopers slaughtering innocent Indians en masse. I would think it would be newsworthy, so I have to assume that it isn’t happening.

I’ve studied Indian history with a prominent historian of the Navajos. My entire graduate history career has been spent listening to apologists for nineteenth-century American activities. I am not ignorant of Indian matters. That being said, I do not understand how anyone can take Indian religious convictions seriously when they imbue natural features with untouchable sacredness. The claim to sacredness is the result of an oral tradition and is not secured by any legal protections.

How can a mountain have intrinsic value that trumps any explicit property rights? It’s ludicrous: these sorts of claims and environmentalism are the only two areas of American society where such a premise is embraced. It’s telling that the parallels between the two qua movements are so significant. They share the same basic ends and often the same means. They also wield power and influence far in excess of their numbers. Their views are appeased and their cows are sacred. It’s really unfortunate because they’re both operating on the same flawed fundamental premise: that civilization must be stopped and preferably rolled back.