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WASHINGTON - The ninth of the National Prayer Days to Protect Native American Sacred Places is set for June 17 - 21.
Suzan Shown Harjo
Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee
"Native and non-Native people nationwide gather at this time for Solstice ceremonies and to honor sacred places," said Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee). She is President of The Morning Star Institute, which organizes the National Sacred Places Prayer Days. "Ceremonies are being conducted as Native American peoples engage in legal struggles with federal agencies that side with developers that endanger or destroy Native sacred places," said Ms. Harjo. "Once again, we call on Congress to build a door to the courts for Native nations to protect our traditional churches. Many sacred places are being damaged because Native nations do not have equal access under the First Amendment to defend them."
Various observances and ceremonies will be held throughout the United States, beginning on June 17 and ending on June 21. The observance in Washington, D.C. will be held on Tuesday, June 21 at 7:30 am on the United States Capitol Grounds, West Front Grassy Area.
All other peoples in the United States can use the First Amendment to protect their churches, but the Supreme Court closed that door to Native Americans in 1988. The Court, in the 23 years from 1988 to 2011, has declined to allow federal religious freedom statutes to be used to protect Native American sacred places or the exercise of Native American religious freedom at sacred places.
"Today, Native Americans are the only peoples in the United States who do not have a constitutional or statutory right of action to protect sacred places or our exercise of religious freedom there," said Ms. Harjo. "That simply must change as a matter of fairness and equity. Native nations have been cobbling together protections based on defenses intended for other purposes. Some may permit a place at the table when development is being contemplated, but Native peoples are not taken seriously because the agencies and developers know that the Supreme Court does not appear inclined to hear lawsuits which lack a tailor-made right of action."
Increasing numbers of American Indian tribal and religious leaders have called for a right of action to defend Native sacred places in court. In President Barack Obama's December 2010 meeting with 12 tribal leaders, the first statement - by the representative of the largest Native nation, Navajo Nation - was for protection of sacred places nationally and for the Administration to stop desecrating the San Francisco Peaks. The US Forest Service is permitting a private ski business to contaminate the sacred mountains in northern Arizona with snow made from recycled sewage water, at the same time as it is "consulting" on Native views of sacred places.
The Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Justice Department and other federal agencies are actively endangering sacred places and fighting Native peoples who are trying to protect sacred places in judicial and administrative processes. The National Congress of American Indians also has called for Congress to enact a statute that would provide a cause of action and for the President to update and strengthen the existing Executive Order on Indian Sacred Sites.
During his presidential campaign in 2008, then-Senator Obama addressed this issue as part of his Native American policy platform for religious freedom, cultural rights and sacred places protection: "Native American sacred places and site-specific ceremonies are under threat from development, pollution, and vandalism. Barack Obama supports legal protections for sacred places and cultural traditions, including Native ancestors' burial grounds and churches."
Many tribal peoples endorsed and voted for Candidate Obama because of his positions on Native sacred places, languages and domestic violence, which were the three policy positions that distinguished him from other candidates. The President's signing of the Tribal Law & Order Act was widely applauded. However, many have noted the lack of White House action on heritage languages and the growing disparity between what the Candidate supported and what the Obama administration has done on sacred places.
"The President has been asked directly to call on Congress to create a right of action so we can defend our holy places, to improve the Executive Order for Indian Sacred Sites and to stop the Forest Service and other agencies from continuing their decades-long assault against Native sacred places," said Ms. Harjo. "I'm still optimistic that the President will do these things, but not everyone is as hopeful as I am. Nonetheless, we pray that this will be the last year we are denied justice by the Executive, Legislative and Judicial Branches."
"Native peoples are encouraged that the President endorsed the United Nations' Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and look forward to its application to US law and practice."
The Declaration includes the following statements regarding sacred places:
"Article 11, 1: Indigenous peoples have the right to practise and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs. This includes the right to maintain, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures, such as archaeological and historical sites, artifacts, designs, ceremonies, technologies and visual and performing arts and literature."
"Article 11, 2: States shall provide redress through effective mechanisms, which may include restitution, developed in conjunction with indigenous peoples, with respect to their cultural, intellectual, religious and spiritual property taken without their free, prior and informed consent or in violation of their laws, traditions and customs."
"Article 12, 1: Indigenous peoples have the right to manifest, practise, develop and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies; the right to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites; the right to the use and control of their ceremonial objects; and the right to the repatriation of their human remains."
"Article 25: Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard."
posted June 17, 2011 6:09 am et
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