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Wednesday, August 06, 2003:

These are happy, happy days in Zuni! It's TRUE - the Salt River Project has been dropped and the threat to Zuni's Salt Woman has passed. This victory comes after twenty years of legal and political battle for the Zuni People who received support from other pueblos and tribes (among them Acoma and Laguna), various organizations (The Sierra Club, Sacred Lands. The Center for Bio-Diversity), celebrities (Jackson Browne, The Indigo Girls) and countless, countless tireless individuals.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003:


There is truly wonderful news from Zuni-land today! The Salt River Project has dropped the Fence Lake Coal Mine! This means that our friends in Zuni have WON their battle for The Salt Woman and the Zuni Salt Lake Crisis appears to be over! Dave and I send our heart-felt CONGRATULATIONS to all our friends in Zuni!


The Zuni religion is unquestionably the most studied, most complex religion known to anthropologists to date. There are many deities considered sacred, the most familiar to non-natives being the kachinas or kokos which number in the hundreds.

But about sixty miles south of the Pueblo there is a salt lake that Zuni Governor Malcolm Bowekaty says, "is the Zunis' most significant religious site." This lake is considered the living body of a female deity. Her name, though spoken in a dozen different languages, is almost exactly the same from tribe to tribe. The mineral springs from an extinct volcano bubble to the surface laden with pure sodium chloride. Natural evaporation causes the salt to crystalize into a glittering crust on the lake's bed, where it is scooped up by the handful (gathered for consumption and ceremonial use) in exchange for a small cornmeal offering.

The Zuni Lake has been a place of worship for many tribes, including Acoma and Laguna Puebloan peoples, Ramah Navajo and Mescalero Apache. It is a neutral zone where even warring tribes agreed to suspend hostilities during pilgrimages to the Salt Lake to collect salt and to conduct their rituals unharmed. Even hunting was forbidden unless the animal "offered" itself to the pilgrims in an unmistakable manner. A network of foot trails running east, north and west connects "Salt Woman" with every major pueblo and tribal village in the area. Zuni Tribal Council member David Wyaco, Sr. compares the trails to umbilical cords linking the villages to their source of life.

But despite the ability of all the area tribes to put all differences aside and maintain peace amongst themselves in this sacred place for hundreds, maybe thousands of years, the sacred Zuni Lake is now under siege fueled by the desire for profit and coal. The situation is most serious and requires national attention and your assistance.

The Salt River Project, a Phoenix, Arizona mega-utility has spent 20 years planning the 7,885 acre Fence Lake Coal Mine which will be 13 miles northeast of the lake. The utility is trying to lay claim to 20.4 billion gallons of water (the equivalent of 85 gallons of water per minute for 40 years) - more than 10 times the amount required by the mine. Most of the water will come from the aquifer that feeds the lake. Despite the project's assurances to the contrary, the Zuni Tribal Council fears the resulting drawdown will drain the sacred lake. The SRP maintains that a series of monitor wells between the mine and the lake will warn of an impending drawdown and allow it to switch to another source of water. But SRP has reserved the right to take all of its mining water from one aquifer, if necessary.

To the deeply religious Zuni, more than a few bags of salt are at stake. The mine will threaten a living shrine equivalent to Lourdes in Europe, intrude into the valley sanctuary and the proposed 44 mile railroad corridor, which will carry the coal to fuel SRP's Coronado Generating Station in St. Johns, Arizona, will obliterate parts of the ancient salt trails. To the Zunis, this is sacrilege.

July 5, 2003: GOOD NEWS!

Though news of progress regarding this issue has been sporadic and slow at best, it certainly does not indicate the tremendous effort by numerous individuals and groups on behalf of Salt Woman.

According to the GALLUP INDEPENDENT in an article dated July 2, 2003, the State of New Mexico is finally taking some action against the Salt River Project and has temporarily suspended activity pending a more thorough investigation into the hydrology of the Atarque Aquifer which feeds the Salt Lake. This suspension of operations is the most definitive action taken thus far and should be considered a huge victory.

July 16, 2001: URGENT!

The State of New Mexico Mining & Minerals Division has RENEWED the permit for the Salt River Project despite loud opposition from the Pueblos of Zuni, Acoma, Laguna, Hopi and the Ramah Navajo.

In a town meeting on June 22nd in Grants, about 130 people were present to voice their opposition to the renewal of the permit. Another meeting was held in Quemado with about 75 people in attendance. A most interesting question was posed at the Grants meeting by a member of the Sierra club, Andy Bessler, when he asked why the meeting was not held in the pueblos the permit renewal will affect.

Despite the escalating opposition, the hydrology reports supplied by the Zuni as well as evidence that the mining operation is not in compliance with government regulations...the SRP permit has been renewed by State. The original permit, issued in 1996, had the stipulation that the mining would be complete within five years. And there is speculation that the production has been held up until the price of coal was right. Pueblo of Zuni Governor, Malcolm Bowekaty was quoted as saying, "From an economic standpoint, it will line their pockets (SRP)."

Councilman Arden Kucate said, "It is implied to us that we create things as we go, but these things have been with us thousands of years", in referring to the Zuni Salt Lake. He issued a warning to all people, not just Native: "We have to start thinking in terms of the traditional way of thinking...it is not the earth...it's Mother Earth." He added that it is time to start taking care of Mother Earth. "Zuni people will not sacrifice our Salt Woman for cheap coal to serve Arizona or California because our Salt Woman is irreplaceable."

Gregory Ortiz, First Lieutenant Governor for Acoma Pueblo spoke: "Brothers and sisters, if there's anything worth fighting for, it's our spirituality. Don't let that happen, don't give it away. Fight for it." He called for all Indian nations to take up the voice. "I will not, and I repeat, I will not allow the desecration of a sacred place that is critical to our existence without a fight."

A war of litigation which will hold up the project for at least twenty years in federal courts has been promised by the Zunis.

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