Date: Wed, 16 Jun 1999 11:59:47 -0500 (CDT)
From: email@example.com (Rich Winkel)
Subject: ENVIRONMENT-RIGHTS: Sacred Native American Sites Threatened
/** ips.english: 501.0 **/
** Topic: ENVIRONMENT-RIGHTS: Sacred Native American Sites Threatened **
** Written 9:03 PM Jun 15, 1999 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **
LAGUNA, New Mexico, Jun 15 (IPS) - Many areas of the United States considered holy by Native Americans - from sacred valleys to traditional burial grounds - are under threat by proposed mining projects and nuclear dumps.
Federal laws, aimed at protecting sites of religious or historic significance, often are being overlooked if the place exists on mineral-rich land, say participants at the Indigenous Environmental Network Conference held here last week.
The mining laws of the United States are stronger than the laws
that protect Native American religious rights, says Roland
Manakaja, director of the Havasupai Natural Resource Department
Native American groups have been meeting annually at these conferences for the past 10 years to discuss environmental and land rights issues.
On the Havasupai reservation in Arizona located near the famous Grand
Canyon, tribal leaders say plans to mine for uranium near threatens
their sacred site of a sunset colored land formation known as Red
The mining threatens not only our sacred land but also
tourism as well, says Manakaja.
After nearly a decade of legal battles between the of Forest Service, the US Supreme Court and tribal leader, the federal government eventually approved the uranium mine.
Luckily for the Havasupai, even with government approval, the company, Energy Fuels Nuclear Incorporated, says it currently has no plans to begin operations since the demand for uranium is declining.
But proposals to mine for radioactive uranium on Mount Taylor, where the conference was held, would desecrate the peak considered holy by several Native American groups in the southwestern United States, says John Redhouse of the Navajo Dine indigenous group.
Mount Taylor is considered sacred to four tribes: the Acoma,
Laguna, Navajo, Zuni, he says.
It is one of the four holy
mountains of the Navajo.
At the conference - attended by 1,000 indigenous people from around
the world - a series of about 20 signs displayed the names of
different US sites that Native American groups consider
In another part of New Mexico, Indian tribes such as the Hopi,
Havasupai and Navajo - are fighting plans to expand a pumice mine in
the Coconino National Forest, located in the northern Arizona. The
pumice is used to make fashionable
stone-washed blue jeans and
While groups consider the mountains - known as the San Francisco Peaks - sacred, the land falls under the jurisdiction of the US Forest Service which has approved expansion of the local small mining company Tufflite Inc.
It really comes down to which is more important to the Forest
Service: the health of the land or the manufacture of soft faded blue
jeans, declares Vincent Randall, chairman of the Yavapai- Apache
It is our hope that our grandchildren will not have more faded blue
jeans than green forests... he says in a letter to the state's
In 1994, the Network's conference was held in the northern state of Wisconsin on Mole Lake, a body of water considered holy by the Chippewa tribe. The site is downstream from a proposed zinc-copper mine to be operated by the Canadian mining company Rio Algom.
The mine is upstream from the nearby wild rice beds of the Mole
Lake and the sacred Wolf River that flows through the Menominee
nation, another Native American tribe, says Zoltan Grossman with
the Midwest Treaty Network, which works to support the land rights of
In the gold-rich state of Nevada, mining on territories claimed by the Western Shoshone tribe has made permanent changes to the landscape, leaving open pits where mountains once stood and artificial mountains where there were none before.
Corbin Harney, a member of the Western Shoshone which call themselves 'Newe', says historical and cultural sites, including burial areas, have been excavated or destroyed without the group's permission if mineral riches lay beneath the soil.
One of our responsibilities is to protect our ancestors, protect
their graves, says Harney.
We can't just go out there and dig them out and move them
someplace else - this makes a lot of our elders back home angry
because things like this are happening all over no matter where you
go, he says.
There have been some success stories in the fight to protect sacred sites. On the Mojave Indian Reservation located at the crux between the three states of California, Nevada and Arizona, plans to place a low-level radioactive storage facility in the sacred area, known as Ward Valley, have been halted.
A coalition of tribal leaders and environmentalists have been occupying Ward Valley since February to prevent the waste from nuclear reactors from being stored on the site.
This has been a sacred area for us for centuries, says Wally
Antone, the Ward Valley Coordinator of the Mojave Indian Tribe.
ancestors were cremated here.
The valley is also critical habitat for the endangered desert tortoise, which is also considered sacred by the Mojave people and appears in many of the tribes myths and legends, according to Bradley Angel, director of California-based Greenaction, an environmental organisation.
From an environmental point of view, the waste should not be stored
here, says Angel.
The dump would be right above the aquifer that filters into the
Colorado River which is a drinking and agricultural water source for
more than 20 million people, he says.
The new governor of California, Gray Davis, is reportedly against the proposed dump, yet Angel warns that even though the construction of the facility has been halted, total victory has not been achieved.
Although it's tempting to celebrate, we haven't defeated
the issue yet and we need the governor to turn his words into action
and make it into law, says Angel.