Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Currents. Discussion »
WASHINGTON After conducting over 100 meetings with tribal officials, the USDA released a report on Thursday that calls for the Department and the US Forest Service to work more closely with tribal governments in the protection, respectful interpretation and appropriate access to Indian sacred sites.
Chaco Village 850-1,250 AD in New Mexico
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack released the report one day after the White House Tribal Nations Conference ended in the nation's capital.
"American Indian and Alaska Native values and culture have made our nation rich in spirit and deserve to be honored and respected,"
"By honoring and protecting sacred sites on national forests and grasslands, we foster improved tribal relationships and a better understanding of native people's deep reverence for natural resources and contributions to society."
Sacred sites are currently defined by Executive Order 13007 signed in 1996, which focuses on specific sites and Indian religion. The report recommends that the department take a broader view by also considering cultural and landscape perspectives.
Hopewell National Park Mounds in Ohio
"I applaud the Forest Service for initiating and completing the sacred sites report,"
said Harris Sherman, Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment.
"It is a very important step in broadening our understanding and protection of sacred sites, and building on relationships with Native America Communities".
Among the recommendations is for Forest Service employees to receive training about tribal history, law and cultural sensitivities.
The mission of the Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Forest Service lands contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone.
Bear Butte in South Dakota
Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation's clean water supply, a value estimated at $27 billion per year.
Four Departments Sign Memorandum
Four cabinet-level departments joined the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation today in signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to improve the protection of Indian sacred sites.
The MOU also calls for improving tribal access to the sites. It was signed by cabinet secretaries from the US Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Energy and Interior. It was also signed by the chairman of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.
"The President is insistent that these Sacred Sites be protected and preserved: treated with dignity and respect. That is also my commitment as Secretary of USDA,"
said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
"I know my fellow Secretaries share in this commitment. We understand the importance of these sites and will do our best to make sure they are protected and respected."
"American Indian service members are fighting to protect America on distant battlefields,"
said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
"I'm pleased this new agreement will help protect Indian sacred sites here at home."
"Protecting America's air and water and our nation's heritage is an important part of the Energy Department's commitment to Tribal Nations across the country, particularly those that are neighbors to the Department's National Laboratories, sites and facilities,"
said Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
"I look forward to continuing this important work and collaborating with other federal agencies and Tribal Nations to protect Indian sacred sites throughout the United States."
"We have a special, shared responsibility to respect and foster American Indian and Alaska Native cultural and religious heritage, and today's agreement recognizes that important role,"
said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.
"Inter-agency cooperation fosters our nation to nation relationship with tribes, and that's certainly true when it comes to identifying and avoiding impacts to the sites that tribes hold sacred."
Read the full USDA Policy and Procedures Review and Recommendations: Indian Sacred Sites Here
posted December 7, 2012 12:50 pm est