Tribal Nations, Native Rights Organizations, and Social/Environmental Justice Allies call on Congress and administration to immediately address Tribal Sacred Lands protection
By Coalition of Native groups
By Coalition of Native groups
Photo: San Francisco Peaks/Save the Peaks
INDIAN COUNTRY — Tribal Nations, Native rights organizations, and social/environmental justice allies are calling on the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee and other Congressional Committees to conduct hearings concerning federal land management practices that threaten or destroy Tribal sacred lands.
The Advocates for the Protection of Sacred Sites, The Save the Peaks Coalition, Indigenous Environmental Network, International Indian Treaty Council, Seventh Generation Fund, Vallejo Inter-Tribal Council, and Morning Star Institute have joined together to address the lack of federal government cooperation and consultation with Tribes in balancing destructive corporate development of Tribal ancestral lands and honoring Tribal rights and needs. The groups are also calling on the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to investigate federal government non-compliance with Tribal consultation requirements and to assist in immediately remedying the problems.
“Corporate development of federal lands that overlap sacred Tribal ancestral lands not only further the desecration and destruction of sacred places and areas which Indigenous Peoples have traditionally used and safeguarded, but harm longstanding and positive Tribal social and cultural structures, increase threats to endangered and threatened species, and cause environmental destruction,” stated Mark LeBeau, Co-Chair of the Advocates for the Protection of Sacred Sites. “The protection and preservation of sacred places are essential to the practice of Indigenous Peoples’ freedom of religions, a fundamental human right which is recognized by both federal and international law.”
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the UN General Assembly on September 13, 2007. This Declaration represents the dynamic development of international legal norms and sets an important standard for the treatment of Indigenous Peoples by states. It is a significant tool towards eliminating human rights violations against the planet's 370 million Indigenous Peoples and assisting them in combating discrimination and marginalization. Article 12 of the Declaration affirms that “Indigenous peoples have the right to manifest, practice, develop and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies and the right to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites.”
“Congress and the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation must intervene where the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and other federal agencies have fallen short in their fiduciary responsibilities to federally-recognized Tribes, including working cooperatively and constructively with Tribes to resolve disputes,” said Radley Davis, Co-Chair of the Advocates for the Protection of Sacred Sites.
On July 11, 2008, more than 1,000 Native rights and environmental justice advocates arrived in Washington, DC after walking across the US to raise awareness about key issues affecting Native peoples and the environment. The successful journey, known as the Longest Walk 2, delivered a 30-page manifesto and list of demands to Congress, which included the protection of sacred places and climate change mitigation.
House Judiciary Chair, US Representative John Conyers (D-MI) promised representatives from the Longest Walk 2 that their issues would be addressed but set no timetable. "The Committee on the Judiciary will hold hearings on each one of these items that you have outlined here," stated Rep. Conyers.
Tribal Nations and Native rights organizations are aware of hundreds of threatened sacred places throughout the US and are highlighting two critical threatened sacred places as evidence for immediate political action: The Medicine Lake Highlands located in California and the San Francisco Peaks located in Northern Arizona.
The Medicine Lake Highlands, northeast of Mt. Shasta, are sacred to the Pit River, Wintu, Karuk, Modoc, Shasta, and other Tribal nations. The Pit River people believe that the Creator and his son bathed in the lake after creating the earth, and then the Creator placed healing medicine in the lake. In the 1980s the BLM gave energy development leases in the Highlands to developers, without first conducting adequate environmental review and consulting any of the Tribes that would be affected by the projects. Developers such as Calpine Energy Corporation have used any tactic that money could buy to try to achieve their goal of building massive power plants in the sacred Highlands to harness geothermal energy, including activating teams of lawyers, lobbying state and federal representatives, buying-off some adversaries, and information spinning.
“The developers are attempting to move ahead in spite of the fact that project-drilling in the Highlands would likely release dangerous chemicals, including arsenic, chromium, and hydrogen sulfide, into the surface and ground waters that Californians and all other living things in this region rely upon,” stated James Hayward, Co-Chair of the Advocates for the Protection of Sacred Sites. “This proposed project must be stopped and the US government must assist in this effort.”
In November 2006, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the federal agencies neglected their fiduciary responsibilities to the Pit River Nation by violating the National Environmental Protection and the National Historic Preservation Acts and that the agencies never took the requisite “hard look” at whether the Highlands should be developed for energy at all. As a result, the court rejected the extension of leases that would have allowed Calpine to build geothermal plants and ordered judgment in favor of Pit River. Now BLM and Calpine are at it again as they prepare to attempt to conduct geothermal resource exploration in the sacred Glass Mountain region of the Highlands. BLM contends that the ruling was not explicative enough and so it is moving forward with the exploration. The Advocates for the Protection of Sacred Sites strongly oppose BLM’s reinterpretation of the ruling and will stop the agency.
Louis Gustafson, Citizen of the Pit River Nation, says, ''The government has agreements not to bomb holy mosques when they're at war, but we have to go through all these hoops just to protect our holy place.''
Arizona’s San Francisco Peaks are recognized internationally as a sacred place. The Peaks are a unique ecological island and are held holy by more than 13 Native American Nations. Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort, located on the holy Peaks, is attempting to expand development, clear-cut acres of old growth trees, and make fake snow from treated sewage effluent, which has been proven to have harmful contaminants. The US Forest Service manages the San Francisco Peaks as public land and has faced multiple lawsuits by the Navajo Nation, Hopi, White Mountain Apache, Yavapai Apache, Hualapai, and Havasupai tribes, as well as the Sierra Club, Flagstaff Activist Network, Center of Biological Diversity, and others after it initially approved the proposed ski area development in 2005.
On August 8, 2008 the 9th Circuit of Appeals overturned a previous court ruling stopping the proposed development. The case is expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court.
"We have no guarantee for the protection for our religious freedom when it comes to government land use decisions," stated Klee Benally of the Save the Peaks Coalition. “This case underscores the fact that we need legislative action to ensure protection for places held holy by Native American Tribes. Federal land management policies are inconsistent when addressing Native American religious practice relating to sacred places. From the San Francisco Peaks, Medicine Lake Highlands, Yucca Mountain, Bear Butte, Mt. Taylor, Mt. Graham and the hundreds of additional sacred places that are threatened or are currently being desecrated, we need consistent protective action now.”
“The corporate projects proposed in the Medicine Lake Highlands and on San Francisco Peaks must be stopped. Key federal lawmakers and administration officials must work more rigorously with Tribes to ensure adequate cooperation and consultation on proposed projects that overlap Tribal sacred lands,” stated Radley Davis. “Our call for hearings is a critical measure that must be taken seriously to ensure that balancing corporate and agency development of Tribal ancestral lands and the needs and rights of Indigenous Nations are honored.”
Please fax a brief letter to Senate Indian Affairs Committee urging that a hearing be held on these issues as soon as possible. The Committee fax number is 202-228-2589.
Contacts: James Hayward, Redding Rancheria/Advocates for the Protection of Sacred Sites, 530-410-2875; Klee Benally, Save the Peaks Coalition,928-380-2629; Radley Davis, Pit River Nation/Advocates for the Protection of Sacred Sites, 530-917-6064; Mark LeBeau, Pit River Nation/Advocates for the Protection of Sacred Sites, 916-801-4422; Chris Peters, Seventh Generation Fund, 707-825-7640; Tom Goldtooth, Indigenous Environmental Network, 218-751-4967; Wounded Knee, Vallejo Inter-Tribal Council, 707-556-8776; Suzan Shown Harjo, Morning Star Institute, 202-547-5531