Sunday, August 10, 2008

Ben Carnes: Religious Suppression at San Francisco Peaks


By Ben Carnes

Photo: Ben Carnes, Choctaw, with Govinda Dalton and the Earthcycles bus in the Rockies. Photo Brenda Norrell/Longest Walk 2008


The recent ruling, regarding the sacred San Francisco Peaks, by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in reversing their earlier decision illustrates a pattern of disrespect for the long-standing spiritual traditions of the First Nations. It is an irony that the court would issue their reversal just a few days before the 30th anniversary of the passage of Public Law 95-341, “The American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978”, which was signed into law on August 11, 1978.
The enactment of the Code of Religious Offenses in 1883 outlawed a way of praying by Native people that kept hope alive. Instead of sheepishly abiding by the law, the ceremonies went underground and were conducted in private. It wasn’t until the latter part of the past century that many of the ceremonies began to emerge into the open.
It was not until the Civil Rights era of the 1960’s that Native people began to demand their rights to follow their traditions and spirituality. Those demands threatened the governments control over the natural resources that were held in its’ trust. The 1972 Trail of Broken Treaties caravan culminated in the occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs building in Washington, D.C. In traveling across the country from the West Coast, they held “Red Ribbon” hearings in Indian country and from the concerns voiced by Native people; they formulated a Twenty-point position paper. The Twenty-points included:
1. RESTORATION OF CONSTITUTIONAL TREATY-MAKING AUTHORITY:
(The 1871 Indian Appropriations Act ended treaty-making with the First Nations)
2. ESTABLISHMENT OF TREATY COMMISSION TO MAKE NEW TREATIES:
3. AN ADDRESS TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE & JOINT SESSSIONS OF CONGRESS:
4. COMMISSION TO REVIEW TREATY COMMITMENTS & VIOLATIONS:
5. RESUBMISSION OF UNRATIFIED TREATIES TO THE SENATE:
6. ALL INDIANS TO BE GOVERNED BY TREATY RELATIONS:
7. MANDATORY RELIEF AGAINST TREATY RIGHTS VIOLATIONS:
8. JUDICIAL RECOGNITION OF INDIAN RIGHT TO INTERPRET TREATIES:
9. CREATION OF CONGRESSIONAL JOINT COMMITTEE ON RECONSTRUCTION OF INDIAN RELATIONS:
10. LAND REFORM AND RESTORATION OF A 110-MILLION ACRE NATIVE LAND BASE:
11. REVISION OF 25 U.S.C. 163; RESTORATION OF RIGHTS TO INDIANS TERMINATED BY ENROLLMENT AND REVOCATION OF PROHIBITIONS AGAINST "DUAL BENEFITS":
12. REPEAL OF STATE LAWS ENACTED UNDER PUBLIC LAW 280 (1953):
13. RESUME FEDERAL PROTECTIVE JURISDICTION FOR OFFENSES AGAINST INDIANS:
14. ABOLITION OF THE BUREAU OF INDIAN AFFAIRS BY 1976:
15. CREATION OF AN "OFFICE OF FEDERAL INDIAN RELATIONS AND COMMUNITY RECONSTRUCTION:
16. PRIORITIES AND PURPOSE OF THE PROPOSED NEW OFFICE:
17. INDIAN COMMERCE AND TAX IMMUNITIES:
18. PROTECTION OF INDIANS' RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AND CULTURAL INTEGRITY:
19. NATIONAL REFERENDUMS, LOCAL OPTIONS, AND FORMS OF INDIAN ORGANIZATION:
20. HEALTH, HOUSING, EMPLOYMENT, ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, AND EDUCATION:
(For more info: http://www.aimovement.org/ggc/trailofbrokentreaties.html)
Although, the majority of these points dealt with re-establishing treaty relations and sovereignty, a demand for the respecting our spirituality was made. The only response by then President Nixon was “Get those Goddamn Indians out of there!”
Profit – exploitation of Native resources – was at stake and the government wasn’t going to have it. It is no different in the case of the San Francisco Peaks and when the executive branch of the government exerts its influence upon the judicial branch to change it’s ruling, the myth of a democratic and freedom loving America is revealed.
When the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA) was passed, many thought that a new dawn had appeared on the horizon, and many closed doors were opened to Native people in the public institutions: public schools, prisons, and military, ie. began to openly practice their First Amendment rights. Or they at least had a law to stand upon when their rights were infringed, but it changed when the Supreme Court denied a Native American Church member the right to use Peyote as a religious practice (Employment Division, Oregon Department of Human Resources v. Smith). By this time, a number of cases found that the AIRFA could not provide the protections they believed they had.
A congressional bill was drafted and named the “Native American Free Exercise of Religion Act” to provide enforcement mechanisms to the toothless AIRFA. The bill did not make it through Congress intact.
Another movement was created to pass the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993”. “In 1997, part of this act was overturned by the United States Supreme Court because it overstepped Congress's power to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio wanted to enlarge a church in Boerne, Texas. But a Boerne ordinance protected the church as a historic landmark and did not permit it to be torn down. The church sued, citing RFRA, and in the resulting case, City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507 (1997), the Supreme Court struck down the RFRA, stating that Congress had stepped beyond their power of enforcement. In response to the Boerne ruling, Congress passed the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) in 2000.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_Freedom_Restoration_Act)
In the past 125 years since the Code of Religious Offenses, it seems that every step gained by Native people are lost when the government changes the rules of the game. It is when corporate interests in natural resources and tourists dollars are affected by the protection of our sacred lands, the courts will rule in the favor of profit.
The Flagstaff city council has a proposed contract to provide sewage water to Snowbowl for making snow out of pee. The Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce (COC) has an ongoing campaign “Reclaim the Peaks” in opposition to the “Save the Peaks Campaign” by Native people and their allies. Rachel Tso, Dineh, has called for a boycott of business’s that are members of the COC. She hopes the economic effect might be felt by the COC and they would rescind the sale of wastewater to Snowbowl. (http://www.bsnorrell.blogspot.com/)
For more information this issue and to download a banner to show your support, got to: http://www.savethepeaks.org/
Listen to Ben Carnes speak on Leonard Peliter, Standing Deer, Smashed Ice and more with Earthcycles in the Rocky Mountains, from the Longest Walk Northern Route:
March 30, 2008 audio:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

With all due respect, the amount of fecal matter is a small fraction of the local fauna as described in the enviormental impact statement.

With regard to desecration, there is no intentional action to disrespect. My apologies for any perceived offense, none are intended.