Magazine article E Magazine

Mining the Sacred Mountains

Magazine article E Magazine

Mining the Sacred Mountains

Article excerpt

To the Navajo, the extinct volcano marking the western pillar of their sprawling reservation is called Diichiti, the Mountain of Strength. It is sacred ground to the Navajo, Havasupi and Hopi tribes.

But these San Francisco Peaks are also home to the White Vulcan Pumice Mine, a U.S. Forest Service-permitted extraction operation located outside of Flagstaff, Arizona. In recent years the mine has been given a new lease on life, thanks to the international popularity of stone-washed jeans, which are processed with white pumice stone extracted there.

The mine owners have notified the U.S. Forest Service that they intend to expand by 30 acres to meet demand for the mineral. This means stripping the area of trees and vegetation, and then using bulldozers to remove the pumice deposits. The company's operations have already allegedly damaged archeological sites on the mountain. "The public will have to decide if they want to tear out a page of history in order to have stone-washed jeans," says Dr. Chris Downum, professor of archeology at Northern Arizona University.

The mining operation and its proposed expansion have been the focus of prayer vigils and protests from the Native American tribes and local environmental activists. "This is a female mountain, which represents the fall season, adulthood and the physical strength of life in general," says Ben Silversmith, a representative of the Navajo Nation. …

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