Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

May 9, 2010

Native Women: Honoring the Earth on Mother's Day

Western Shoshone, Navajo and Havasupai women honor the Earth each day in their struggle to defend and protect Mother Earth

From Editor's Note: This post comes to us from our friends over at Earth Island Journal. It offers a different perspective on Mother's Day from Women's Earth Alliance, and asks you to think of celebrating Mother Earth this holiday. For a full version of the guest post, head to Earth Island Journal.

By Caitlin Sislin, Esq., Advocacy Director, Women's Earth Alliance
(Photo NASA)

Today is the day of the mother, the day we honor the source of life. As we give thanks for all the nurturing and resources our mothers provide for us, we also celebrate our shared mother - the Earth. Without her flowing waters, warm sun, rich soil and fresh air, even our most advanced technologies wouldn't be able to sustain our collective life here.

We write to you from the front lines of a critical struggle for justice and sustainability - unbeknownst to many of us - that is unfolding right here in North America. For the past week, the intrepid Women's Earth Alliance (WEA) Advocacy Delegation has been meeting with three Native American communities whose sacred places are gravely threatened by mining and commercial development.

Our team of eight dynamic women - legal, policy, and business experts -convened in Elko, Nevada, to begin our journey. There, we learned from Western Shoshone elder and longtime land rights activist Carrie Dann about the ravaging of sacred Mt. Tenabo by Barrick Gold Mine. For the Western Shoshone and many other tribes in the region, all life emerged from Mt. Tenabo; now, this sage and pinon-covered range is the site of the largest open pit cyanide heap leach gold mine in the United States. The Shoshone say that because of the 1.8 billion gallons of water per year that will be drawn from within the mountain, along with the 2,200 ft. deep mine pit and the toxic cyanide tailings ponds, the mountain itself will die if protective action is not taken.

We then traveled to Flagstaff, Arizona, where Jeneda Benally and the Save the Peaks Coalition shared with us the epic legal and grassroots campaign underway to protect the San Francisco Peaks. These holy Peaks hold the utmost spiritual significance to 13 tribes, and are at risk of total desecration through the use of reclaimed wastewater to make artificial snow at a ski resort. For the Navajo, putting 180 million gallons of wastewater annually on the mountain would irreversibly contaminate the mountain's holy purity.

Finally, we traveled to the magnificent Grand Canyon, where Havasupai leader Carletta Tilousi explained the grave threat of uranium mining to the tribe's sacred Red Butte mountain, to the community's health, and to the safety of the regional aquifer. Since 2005, because of a major spike in the price of uranium on the world market, over 10,000 new uranium claims have been filed on the land surrounding the Grand Canyon, the traditional homeland of the Havasupai. Uranium mining - including one mine just a few miles from the Havasupai's holiest mountain shrine and from the rim of the Canyon, situated directly over the aquifer that provides water to the tribe's village and many other communities - would expose the air, water, land, and community to toxic and carcinogenic contamination through the extraction of hundreds of thousands of pounds of uranium ore.

The unfortunate fact is that our land-use and environmental policies, while allowing for the constitutional protection of some religious freedoms, do not yet protect sacred land for its own sake or for the people who revere it. We have seen that when economic development clashes in court or in the legislature with the protection of Native American holy places, development usually wins - no matter the devastation of natural resources and human community that may result.

On this Mother's Day, why should we care about these injuries to communities we may never know? This week, our team has learned that we all owe our lives to the delicate balance of the planet, and disruption of that balance in one place will impact all of us everywhere.

Lila Watson, Australian aboriginal leader, said: "If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."

Our liberation is bound up with the health of the Earth and all her people. WEA's Sacred Earth Advocacy Network is proud to stand in solidarity with the indigenous female environmental leaders of sacred sites protection campaigns in North America, through pro bono legal, policy, and business advocacy collaborations. On this day of honoring our mothers, we invite you to join us in protecting our shared, sacred Mother Earth by learning more about these urgent issues, spreading the word in your community about the impacts of consumption on people and land, and supporting our work toward sustainability and justice. Most of all, take a moment today and every day to stand on the earth, give thanks for all that she provides, and make a commitment to protect her, for the sake of future generations and all life.


Women's Earth Alliance (WEA) is a global organization that implements solutions to issues of climate, water, food, and land by connecting grassroots women environmental leaders to urgently-needed resources, training and advocacy.

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