1998 NCC News Archives
Indigenous Peoples Detail Efforts to Protect Sacred Sites in U.S.
NEW YORK, July 17, 1998 ---- A new resource published by the National Council of Churches details an emerging conflict -- the rights of Indigenous Peoples in the United States to protect their sacred sites versus government and private intrusions on the land. "Sacred Sites, Sacred Rites," a joint project of the NCC's Racial Justice Working Group and the American Indian Community House in New York, is the first known available resource that examines this conflict from an Indigenous perspective.
Along with other issues, the 62-page resource focuses on a 14-year campaign by Indigenous communities and their supporters to stop a giant astronomy project on Mt. Graham, located near Safford, Ariz., and the most sacred site to the San Carlos Apache.
The University of Arizona, the Max Planck Institute in Germany and the Vatican are in the process of building a series of giant telescopes on Mt. Graham that would destroy a quarter of the mountain's forest. This project, which was initially designated as part of Italian and Vatican celebrations in 1992 recognizing the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' voyage to the Western Hemisphere, was to be called "the Columbus Project."
The resource also contains historical background on attempts by Indigenous Peoples to protect their sacred sites and a list of sites currently under attack by private developers and federal and state governments. And it examines the history of Christian churches in the United States in supporting such efforts.
The resource is authored by Andrea Lee Smith, a Cherokee currently doing doctoral work at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and contains an introduction by Sammy Toineeta, Program Director of the NCC Racial Justice Program.
"The reason the protection of sacred sites is important is because there are 250 million Indigenous Peoples in the world and each area has its own sites," said Ms. Toineeta. "These sacred sites are the churches for 250 million Indigenous Peoples. When a church is desecrated or violated in any way, people become very angry and protective. When the same thing is done to a sacred site, unfortunately it is 'business as usual.' "
One source of ongoing conflict between Indigenous Peoples and the federal government is that the federal Native American Cultural Protection and Free Exercise of Religion Act of 1994 does not contain protection of sacred sites. "The area in which indigenous religions are least protected is the area of sacred sites," Ms. Toineeta said.
"For Indigenous Peoples, the spiritual grounding that we experience throughout our lives is the expression of that which is encoded in our genetic structure, and it is as necessary for the fulfillment of our lives as water," Toineeta writes in the introduction to "Sacred Sites, Sacred Rites."
"The land serves to do more than nourish our bodies. It nourishes our spirits and souls. Many of our elders have stated that, if we lose the land, we will physically cease to be as a people. This is how strongly Indigenous Peoples are bonded to the land."
"Sacred Sites, Sacred Rites" is available for $5 plus $2 shipping and handling from the Racial Justice Unit, National Council of Churches, 475 Riverside Drive, Room 812, New York, NY 10115. E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone 212-870-2491.
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