Alberta Nells, a youth leader of the Navajo Nation, worked with Youth of the Peaks to mobilize young people to oppose the development of the Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort on the San Francisco Peaks, held sacred by more than 13 Native American Nations.
Despite the objections of Native Americans, Arizona Snowbowl has operated a ski resort on the peaks for many years. In 2004, the U.S. Forest Service approved Snowbowl's expansion plans, which involve building new ski runs by clear-cutting 74 acres of rare alpine ecosystem and using treated wastewater to make artificial snow, even though many scientists argued that such wastewater contains harmful contaminants that pose a risk to natural ecosystems and to human health.
In 2006, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling to block the ski resort owner’s plans to use treated sewage to make artificial snow for the mountain. They successfully argued that the plan violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which protects the free exercise of religion.
Nells was quoted in Indian Country Today as saying, “This mountain is our mother, she is our grandparent and we’re the children, the grandchildren; We hear it in our songs, in our prayers and now we can leave from this area knowing that we have made a difference in this world today. Now we can continue to walk life in beauty.’’
Nells continues to organize demonstrations and marches to protect this and other sacred sites from development, while making public her concern for the survival of traditional culture. She was known for her spiritual leadership qualities delivered in song and prayer. As a way of ensuring the ways of her ancestors were not forever lost, she connected members of her own generation with their elders through painting murals, planting and habitat restoration, alcohol and drug prevention projects, and tribal summits.
For her ongoing efforts, Nells was honored by Brower Youth Awards in 2006 from the Seva Foundation.