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Other branches of agencies view the presence of sacred sites as an impediment to the use of the landscape by their most favored customers, often in extractive, energy, agricultural, and recreational industries. Agency staff often are bullied into reducing the size of the sacred sites, pretending the sacred sites are not of cultural significance, playing tribes off against one another, or even ignoring the presence of the sites altogether. True consultation often is replaced by a check-box consultation where the Tribes are given unreasonable deadlines to consider how much sensitive information they can reasonably share with agencies. The advice of elders regarding prudent protection is ignored. The agencies often claim Tribally recommended protection measures would violate their most favored customers "rights" to develop, even though the Tribes may have pre-existing rights of entry and use for sacred sites. The Tribes have difficulty speaking louder than the money developers use to grease the wheels of the approval processes. When so many of our trustee's line officers favor economic matters over Tribal sovereignty and environmental justice, the Tribes are marginalized in the decision-making process and the sacred areas are marginalized with them.
It is clear that our trustee is managing the sacred sites on federal lands for just about anyone other than the affected Tribes. We can spend this listening session talking about definitions, procedures, access mechanisms, co-management, cooperative agreements, confidentiality, and other important topics. However, until the attitude of our trustee changes, this kind of meeting might be a sterile exercise. We fervently hope this is not the case.
We remind our trustee of the language in Article 12 of the United Nations' Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, signed in 2010 by President Obama, "Indigenous peoples have the right to manifest, practice, develop and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs, ceremonies; the right to maintain protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites " All that is keeping us from seeing the realization of these noble concepts is a shift in attitude.
posted August 31, 2012 7:00 am edt