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PORTLAND, OREGON Representatives from the Pit River Tribe journeyed from Burney, California to Portland, Oregon to deliver the written testimony of their Tribal Chairman Juan Venegas before the Occasion of the Department of the Interior Listening Session Regarding Sacred Sites on Federal Lands on Tuesday.
Pit River Tribal Council(l to r) Front Row: Melvin Elmore, Sophia Villarruel, Jessica Jim,
Raquel Preston, Shawnna Harrison, Uriel Chacon, Gwen Wolfin, Faith Santillian.
Back Row: Irvin Brown, Laura Olivas, Ramone Alvarez, Herb Quinn, Raymond Alvarez,
Raymond Sloan, Vernon Ward Jr., Juan Venegas, Robbie Gibbs, and Randy Quinn
His testimony urges the federal government to shift their attitude when it comes to following their own laws when it comes to sacred sites.
Here is complete text of Chairman Venegas' written testimony:
Thank you for the opportunity to provide input to our trustee regarding the important issue of the protection of sacred sites. Here in 2012 one might have hoped that listening sessions such as this had become unnecessary as agencies embrace the benefits of true consultation with the Tribes. Unfortunately the protection of our invaluable sacred sites continues to decline. The issue is not lack of legal protections but is one of attitude on the part of our trustee.
Year after year the Tribes must return to court to force our trustee to follow its own laws and act in the interests of its beneficiaries. It is clear from the decades of experiences that the Tribes are not considered among the Agencies' most valued customers.
It has taken years for our trustee to recognize the irreparable harm the loss of sacred sites has to its beneficiaries. Even the most intransigent of agencies at least collect information on sacred sites within the lands they manage. Despite this, rarely does the protection of our sacred sites become a key element of agency planning documents. Even so, the management of these important places has created a kind of split personality among the agencies.
Some branches of agencies seize upon the presence of sites sacred to the Tribes as an excuse to lock away lands from particular uses and developments. Such lands often become parts of things like wilderness study areas or national recreation areas. The land containing the sacred sites is reclassified with certain rules and restrictions put in place, meant more to protect the land managers' priorities than the sacred values recognized by the Tribes. Practitioners of Native American religions might be allowed to compete with the public for use permits in order to be able to gather at sacred places. Restrictions that sometimes make it impossible to perform sacred rituals may be imposed by the federal land managers.
Non-tribal members may be encouraged to desecrate the sacred places by doing activities out of character with the sacred uses of these areas. In short, it may be a "protected" sacred site on paper, but it will only function in that way if the Native American religious practitioners don't interfere with the agencies' most valued customers. It is difficult to admit that cattle may have freer use of some sacred places than the people who have religious ties to these special areas.
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posted August 31, 2012 7:00 am edt