American Indian groups head to United Nations for help
In the Arctic wilderness, the caribou that have roamed freely for centuries now face a threat from corporate developers seeking to exploit the land.
Elsewhere, sacred mountains, rivers and places revered by Native peoples for cultural and religious reasons also are being threatened increasingly by corporate interests intent on mining the land, draining lakes and pumping out precious minerals and oil.
While this is an old refrain for many Native people, the environmental issues are getting renewed attention and support from a broad coalition of organizations, who
recently asked the United Nations to intervene.
“Such precious lands are revered by a bear, a deer, a forest, the water and the peoples —- by an entire ecosystem,” Tia Oros, of Zuni Pueblo, Special Projects and Program Director of the Seventh Generation Fund, which presented a statement recently to the United Nations.
During the presentation and a forum on the protection of Native cultures in New York, the Seventh Generation Fund asked the United Nations to immediately intervene and appoint a United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Protection of Sacred Places.
The Rapporteur would gather testimony from Indigenous people, whose communities are targeted, or impacted, by resource exploitation and environmental injustice. The testimony would then serve to inform the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
The action comes after a coalition of 105 Indigenous Peoples from 35 Indigenous Nations met in Phoenix, Ariz., in March at a traditional gathering of spiritual leaders and elders, Tlahtokan Aztlan. United Nations Representative Wilton Littlechild, Cree Nation, attended the gathering.
Presenting the collective response from Phoenix, Oros told the United Nations that the destruction of sacred sites reverberates throughout the landscape and the spiritual significance of all life is jeopardized.
Sacred places and ceremonial sites are being destroyed at an increasing rate by resource exploitation and development projects.
“Indigenous peoples are rapidly losing our places of prayer, ritual, and history that are critical to the survival of our distinct cultural and spiritual existence,” Oros said.
The United Nations was asked to intervene in the protection of Indigenous burial sites and the repatriation of items taken from ancestral and grave sites.
With dams and development destroying sacred places and habitats, the United Nations was asked to ensure the protection of Indigenous water rights and protection of Indigenous migrant workers, lifeways and traditional food sources.
The coalition, organized by Tonatierra in Phoenix, the Seventh Generation Fund and the American Indian Law Alliance, stressed the need to protect Indigenous Nations from intellectual property theft.
With the increase of genetically-altered crops, there is a need to protect Indigenous communities from the destruction of biotechnology. Human rights
violations of Indigenous communities bisected by international borders, such as the Tohono O’odham, Cocopah and Yaqui in Arizona, were also pointed out.
With the immediate threat to the caribou in the Arctic, the international community was urged to demand the protection of animals held sacred, including the salmon, buffalo, caribou, panther, bear, eagle, condor, alligator, wolf, woodpecker, wild turkey and many other sacred species.
The international peace, security of all peoples, cultures and lands, stability of traditional governance systems, and respect for the all of Creation, are essential for a harmonious future for the world’s children.
The presentation was made to the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, which was established as an advisory body to the Economic and Social Council, at the United Nations in New York, May 12-23.
In New York, the Tlahtokan Aztlan Plan of Action was accepted as a conference room paper. It recommends the forum make a request of UNESCO to organize a workshop for the protection of sacred places and ceremonial sites. The workshop would identify protective mechanisms and address restoration and reparation of Indian lands.
Among the Indigenous Nations and organizations supporting the intervention was Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico, now struggling to protect its sacred Salt Lake, their cherished Salt Mother, from mining. Already their ancestors have been unearthed.
The Salt River Project, a regionally based electric power company has targeted the site and intends to mine over 80 million tons of coal near Zuni Salt Lake.
The United Nations was advised that the Salt River Project plans to center its coalmine in the Sanctuary Zone.
“Like a great vampire, the mining operation will siphon water from this fragile desert ecosystem by pumping 85 gallons per minute of groundwater from the same aquifer that feeds the lake.
“This will absolutely damage ancient pilgrimage trails, desecrate hundreds of burial places, and ruin cultural sites. Already some of our ancestors’ remains have been wrongfully removed from their resting places to prepare for mining. Sadness lays hard on our lands,” Oros
Meanwhile in Arizona, Navajos on Black Mesa maintain their 30-year resistance to forced relocation and oppose the coal mining which drains water from their aquifer and poisons their air, land and water.
Near the border of Mexico, the Baboquivari Mountain, Home of the Creator, the elder brother of the Tohono O’odham and Pima Nations, is targeted for desecration, by outside tourism interests.
In the family of sacred mountains, springs, and traditional alters of the Sonoran desert, the Baboquivari Mountain is an essential member.
In Albuquerque, a line has been drawn in the sand for the Petroglyph National Monument where the ancestors have etched sacred messages to inform and guide spiritual leaders for generations to come. The Petroglyphs constitute a sacred site and shrine for all Pueblos, and contain shrines of the Pueblo Indian Tribes. Some etchings date over 10,000 years, and the site continues to be used today.
The city of Albuquerque proposes two commuter highways that would dissect the Petroglyph National Monument and would be a desecration of this religious place.
Running to the forum session from the north, Indigenous runners carried two bundles of sacred staffs of the Confederacy of the Eagle and the Condor on a 500-mile spiritual run through the territories of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.
Wilton Littlechild, of the Cree Nation and a member of the Permanent Forum, took the staffs into the forum when runners arrived on May 14. The staffs remained there throughout the day, guarded by the Peace and Dignity runners.
The staffs have traversed the continents of North, Central and South America three times since 1992. They are carried by the spiritual runners of the Peace and Dignity Journeys, in fulfillment of a traditional mandate of the Indigenous Nations, known as the Confederation of the Eagle and the Condor.
Beginning their run at the western door of the Six Nations Confederacy in Towanda, N.Y., runners ranged in age from 14 to 73. They ran to Onondaga, where they were hosted, before running to the United Nations.
“We have made this journey to the door of the United Nations Headquarters as an assertion of our self-determination, our right to self-definition and spiritual fulfillment as indigenous nations of the Earth,” Gustavo Gutierrez, coordinator of the Peace and Dignity Journeys for North America, told the Permanent Forum.
The United Nations announced that In 2004, runners will carry the staffs from Alaska to Kuna Yala, Panama, to a ceremony of peace and unification for the peoples of the world. The staffs are currently in the care of the Okanagan Nation of British Columbia, Canada.
The United Nations was asked to intervene in the protection of sacred sites by the Seventh Generation Fund for Indian Development, with the Pueblo of Zuni-Zuni Tribal Council, the American Indian Law Alliance, the Teton Sioux Nation Treaty Council, the Tonatierra Community Development Institute, the Mo’o Guk Amjedkam, the SAGE Council, the Buffalo River Dene Nation and the Beaver Lake Cree Nation.
At the Permanent Forum, more than 1,500 people from 500 Indigenous groups worldwide attended the session whose theme was “Indigenous Children and Youth.” Roberto Mucaro Borrero, Taino from Puerto Rico, called the meeting to order on a conch shell. Tadodaho Chief Sidney Hill, spiritual leader of the six-nation Haudenosaunee group, gave a traditional blessing.
Native American sacred sites in the United States include, but are not limited, to:
- Zuni Salt Lake, New Mexico (Zuni, Acoma, Laguna, Hopi, other Pueblo, Apache, Dine’)
- Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico (Pueblos)
- Sandia Peak, New Mexico (Pueblos)
- Mt. Taylor, New Mexico (Pueblos, Dine’)
- Mount Boboquivari, Arizona (Tohono O’Odham)
- Mt. Graham, Arizona (Apache)
- San Francisco Peaks, Arizona (Pueblo, Hopi, Dine’)
- Black Mesa, Arizona (Hopi, Dine’)
- Red Butte, Arizona (Havasupai)
- Rainbow Bridge, Arizona (Dine’)
- Arctic Wildlife Refuge, Alaska (Gwichin)
- Bear Butte, South Dakota (Lakota, Nakota, Dakota, Cheyenne)
- Black Hills, South Dakota (Lakota)
- Mato Tipila, Wyoming (Lakota)
- Medicine Wheel, Wyoming (Arapaho, Cheyenne)
- Yucca Mountain, Nevada (Western Shoshone)
- Dr. Rock, California (Yurok, Karuk, Tolowa)
- Little Medicine Mountain, California (Yurok, Karuk)
- Gaviota Coastline, California (Chumash)
- Western Gate, California (Chumash)
- Quechan Indian Pass, California (Quechan)
- Medicine Lake, California (Pit River, Modoc, Shasta, Wintu)
- Mt. Shasta, California (Pit River, Modoc, Shasta, Wintu)
- Puvungna, California (Tongva, Acjachemen)
- Arlecho Creek, Washington (Lummi)
- Snoqualmie Falls, Washington (Snoqualmie)
- Columbia River Hills, Washington/Oregon (Klickitat)
- Semiahmoo, Washington (Lummi)
- Mount Hood, Oregon (Warm Springs, Tygh)
- Pipestone National Monument, Minnesota (Many tribes)
- Cold Water Springs, Minnesota (Dakota)
- Ocmulgee, Georgia (Muscogee)
- Moccasin Bend, Tennessee (Cherokee)