A good time for prayer: Need to protect Sacred sites still exists

Hahshani Behithay Mashath, Moon of the Saguaro Fruit. That's the Tohono O'odham name for June. This time of year is usually hot and dry. The summer solstice, the longest day of the year, comes on June 21 and is the official beginning of summer. San Juan's Day is June 24, when Tribal people celebrate the coming of the rains with traditional song and stories, as well as mark the beginning of the year.

Saguaro cactus fruit wine plays an important part in these ceremonies for the Tohono O'odham. Prominent in the songs and stories are the others that live in this desert land. Gambel's quail, roadrunners, white-winged doves and black-throated sparrows ignore the heat. Visible also are our reptile residents: Coachwhips, fast and aggressive but harmless, are the only snakes willing to brave daytime ground temperatures. Zebra-tail, whiptail and spiny lizards dash or do pushups, trying to make themselves look larger to possible pursuers. Horned lizards lap up ants at dusk.

Cacti blossoms are hardening into fruit, and Tohono O'odham families make their traditional harvest of saguaro fruit and mark the beginning of their New Year. Cicadas join crickets to make night music. Once again, the cycle continues as it has from the time before time. This continuum of culture is what sustains the people. Not because of but in spite of the harshest of conditions, politics, history and conflict of cultures. They remember: Elder Brother, Earth Magician, and Coyote began their work of creation, each creating things different from the other. Elder Brother created people out of clay and gave then the "crimson evening," which is regarded by the Tohono O'odham as one of the most beautiful sights in the region. The sunset light is reflected on the mountains with a peculiar radiance.

Elder Brother told the Tohono O'odham to remain where they were in that land which is the center of all things.
And there the desert people have always lived. They are living there this very day. And from his home among the towering cliffs and crags of Baboquivari, the lonely, cloud-veiled peak, their Elder Brother, I'itoi, spirit of goodness, who must dwell in the center of all things, watches over them.

Please note this News release:

611 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20003
(202) 547-5531

News Statement For Immediate Release


Washington, DC (6/18/09)—Observances and ceremonies will be held across the country from June 19 through June 23 to mark the 2009 National Days of Prayer to Protect Native American Sacred Places. The observance in Washington, D.C. will be held on Monday, June 22 at 8:45 a.m. on the United States Capitol Grounds, West Front Grassy Area (see details under the Washington, D.C. listing below).

Times and places for public commemorations are listed in the following pages. Some of the gatherings highlighted in this release are educational forums, not religious ceremonies, and are open to the public. Others are ceremonial and may be conducted in private. In addition to those listed below, there will be commemorations and prayers offered at sacred places that are under threat at this time.

“Native and non-Native people nationwide gather at this time for Solstice ceremonies and to honor sacred places, with a special emphasis on the need for Congress to build a door to the courts for Native nations to protect our traditional churches,” said Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee). She is President of The Morning Star Institute, which organizes the National Sacred Places Prayer Days.

“Many Native American sacred places are being damaged because Native nations do not have equal access under the First Amendment to defend them,” said Ms. Harjo. “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. Today, Native Americans are the only peoples in the United States who do not have a constitutional right of action to protect sacred places. 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. Those may permit lawsuits, but they do not provide a place at the table when development is being contemplated, and the Supreme Court does not appear inclined to hear lawsuits which lack a tailor-made cause of action.”

During his presidential campaign in 2008, Sen. Barack 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.”

“Native Americans were heartened by this statement and look forward to President Obama fulfilling his promise,” said Ms. Harjo.

“Twenty-one years have passed without Congress creating that door to the courthouse for Native Americans,” said Ms. Harjo. “Now, with the support of the President, we pray that this will be the last year we are denied justice. Native and non-Native people are gathering, again, to call on anyone who will listen to help protect these national treasures and to do something about this national disgrace that threatens them.”

The 2009 observances will be the seventh of the National Prayer Days to Protect Native American Sacred Places. The first National Prayer Day was conducted on June 20, 2003, on the U.S. Capitol West Lawn and nationwide to emphasize the need for Congress to enact a cause of action to protect Native sacred places. That need still exists.

Native peoples are encouraged by the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which includes the following statements:

Article 11, 1: Indigenous peoples have the right to practice 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, practice, 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."

Among the many sacred places in danger of being destroyed by energy developers are the Medicine Lake Highlands and Hatchet Mountain in traditional Pit River Territory in northeastern California. The Medicine Lake Highlands, a ceremonial and healing place in the Modoc National Forest, is proposed for geothermal development. The Bureau of Land Management says a Ninth Circuit ruling in the matter is not clear enough and it will issue leases to developers.

Hatchet Mountain is proposed as a site for the construction of massive windmill towers and the harnessing of wind energy. The wind towers, which are known as “chop shops” for birds, will kill eagles and other migratory birds, along with bats, and will disturb the natural living patterns of all species in the region. The wind towers are proposed for placement on a sacred site.

In addition to those listed separately, prayers will be offered for the following sacred places, waters and beings: Indian Pass, a Quechan sacred place in southern California, which won a favorable ruling against gold mining in a NAFTA proceeding in 2009. Medicine Bluff, a sacred place to the Apache, Arapaho, Cheyenne, Comanche and Kiowa Tribes, which was protected in a District Court decision in a Comanche Nation lawsuit against the Department of Defense in 2009. Coastal Chumash sacred lands in the Gaviota Coastal region in southern California. Yurok Nation's salmon fisheries in the Klamath River. Berry Creek, Moore Town and Enterprise Rancherias' lands. The sacred Puvungna of the Tongva and Acjachemen Peoples. The sacred Katuktu (Morro Hill) of the San Luis Rey Band of Mission Indians. Mount Graham, Apache holy land in Arizona. Hualapai Nation landforms in Truxton and Crozier Canyons of Arizona. The Boboquivari Mountain of the Tohono O’odham Nation. Zuni Salt Lake. Carrizo/Comecrudo lands flooded by Amistad Lake and Falcon Dam in Texas. The Badlands. Bear Butte. Black Hills. Lummi Nation Tsi-litch Semiahmah Village and the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe Tse Whit Zen Village - Ancestor burial grounds. Cold Water Springs and Pipestone National Monument in Minnesota. Ocmulgee National Monument and Ocmulgee Old Fields in Georgia. Petroglyphs National Monument and the micaceous clay-gathering place of the Picuris Pueblo in New Mexico. Sweetgrass Hills (Badger Two Medicine) in Montana. Endangered salmon in the Pacific Northwest. Sacred places of all removed Native nations.