Monday, June 21, 2010

Arizona sacred sites observances for 2010 National Sacred Places Prayer Days includes Navajo Nation

Arizona sacred sites observances for 2010 National Sacred Places Prayer Days includes Navajo Nation
Arizona events for 2010 National Sacred Places Prayer Days includes Navajo Nation
Arizona sacred sites include Mount Graham (Dzil Nchaa Si An) and the San Francisco Peaks that is sacred to the Navajo and other American Indian tribes
Other Navajo Nation environmental events and news in near future:
6th Annual Navajo Nation Drinking Water Conference
July 12-15, 2010

Scottsdale, Arizona
email Michelle K. Silver:
Thousands of Homes on the Navajo Reservation Will Soon Get Running Water
Navajo Nation Parks
Message from Chief Arvol Looking Horse
19th generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe

611 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE
Washington, DC
(202) 547-5531
News Statement released on 6/17/10
For Immediate Release
Washington, DC — Observances and ceremonies will be held across the country from June 18 through June 23 to mark the 2010 National Days of Prayer to Protect Native American Sacred Places.
The observance in Washington, D.C. will be held on Monday, June 21 at 9:00 a.m. on the United States Capitol Grounds, West Front Grassy Area (see details under the Washington, D.C. listing in the alphabetical list on the following pages).
Descriptions of certain sacred places and threats they face, as well as times and places for public commemorations are listed below.
Some of the gatherings highlighted in this release are educational forums, not religious ceremonies, and are open to the general public.
Others are ceremonial and may be conducted in private.
In addition to those listed below, there will be observances and prayers offered at other sacred places that are under threat and at those not endangered 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 this year on sacred waters and those beings that depend on them,” 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 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.”
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, from 1988 to 2009, 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 cause of action.”
“The Obama Administration is strengthening consultation and sacred sites Executive Orders,” said Ms. Harjo, “but executive orders do not create legal protections.”
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 American people are heartened that President Obama is fulfilling his promise,” said Ms. Harjo. “And we look forward to the day when the President calls on Congress to create a right of action so we can defend our holy places. Over 20 years have passed without Congress creating a door to the courthouse for Native Americans. Now, with the support of the President, we pray that this will be the last year we are denied justice.”
The 2010 observances will be the eighth 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 Grounds 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 also are encouraged that the U.S. is reviewing the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and consulting with tribal leaders about whether or not to adopt it.
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, 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.”
Arizona: Mount Graham, Dzil Nchaa Si An
Mount Graham is sacred to the Western Apache people and is known to the San Carlos Apache as Dzil Nchaa Si An.
It is a holy landscape where Gaahn or Mountain Spirits reside and ancestral Apache rest.
It is a place of ceremonies and medicine plants, and home to the endangered red squirrel.
The PinaleƱo Mountains or Mount Graham is a unique ecological treasure.
It is the tallest mountain in southern Arizona and encompasses six different life zones from the valley floor to its peak at 10,720 ft.
Called a “Sky Island” ecosystem, the old growth forests on Mount Graham’ssummit are the Arizona equivalent of rainforests.
The abundant springs and high altitude meadows have offered sustenance and a source of healing to Apache people who live in the desert.
The cool moist characteristics of the Mountain have nurtured 18 different plants and animals found nowhere else in the world.
In the 1980s, the University of Arizona and their partners at the time, including the Vatican and the Smithsonian Institution, chose Mount Graham as the site to construct an observatory with seven large telescopes known as the Columbus Project.
Beginning in 1988, the Arizona congressional delegation succeeded in gaining exemptions for the project from the endangered species, environmental, historical preservation and other laws.
In 1989, the University of Arizona was granted a 20-year special use permit by the Coronado National Forest and the U.S. Forest Service, and appropriation riders kept the project flush with public benefits without having to abide by federal laws or regulations, including federal Indian laws intended to protect religious freedom, burial grounds and cultural properties.
Vatican spokesmen stated that Mount Graham was not a religious or sacred place.
University employees and lobbyists attempted to undermine the reputations of Apache religious leaders and practitioners, and retained at least one San Carlos tribal official to testify that the Mountain was not sacred or significant to the Apache peoples.
For decades, Apache peoples, scientists, conservationists and university students have resisted the University of Arizona’s decision to build the telescopes on the Mountain’s summit.
Even though frequent cloud cover makes telescope viewing marginal and Mount Graham was ranked 38th in a study of astronomical sites in the U.S., the Arizona congressional delegation and the University have persisted with the project.
Today, the construction of telescopes and resulting federal closure of the Mountain’s top are desecrating the Mountain and its irreplaceable relationship with Apache peoples.
The struggle continues to protect the natural and cultural heritage of Mount Graham from the precedent-setting destruction still being caused by the University in building their observatory on Mount Graham.
The efforts of cultural protection and environmental organizations and affected Tribes to protect the sacredness of Mount Graham continue unabated.
The University of Arizona is now operating its observatory without a valid special use permit.
Its 20-year federal permit expired on April 19, 2009.
The University has asked the Coronado National Forest for a new permit, but, as of June of 2010, a decision on whether to grant the permit has not yet been made.
The Forest Service has determined that it needs to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to gather information as to the pros and cons of granting a new permit.
The University has objected strenuously to a new EIS. From what little information the Mount Graham Coalition and the San Carlos Apache Tribe have learned, the Forest Service’s and the University’s lawyers are “in discussions” to determine the final form of the permit renewal process.
There are a number of reasons for the Forest Service to deny a new permit.
The lapsed permit had a number of terms and conditions that were violated by the University.
Many of these conditions should have led to the revocation of the permit but did not.
All of these violations need to be studied to determine whether the University can follow the rules of a new permit.
The conditions of Mount Graham have changed substantially since the permit was granted and the observatory is even less compatible with the religious and ecological importance of Mount Graham.
Since the permit was granted, the “shape” of Mount Graham has been deemed eligible for placement on the national list of historic places.
In addition, the Forest Service now acknowledges that Mount Graham is a Traditional Cultural Property to Western Apache people and has taken steps to consult (although it has a long way to go) with traditional Apache about the sacred nature of the Mountain and how to protect it.
The University may go to Congress for yet another exemption to religious freedom and environmental laws and to force the Forest Service to issue a new permit.
Supporters of Mount Graham would be the last to hear of any lobbying along these lines and must be ever vigilant to stop this from happening.
For these and many other reasons, it is important for supporters of Apache peoples and Mount Graham to urge the Forest Service to deny the University a new permit and require that the existing telescopes on Mount Graham be removed.
After 20 years of construction, the large telescope project is still not complete and is useless as a scientific instrument.
Although the primary mirrors are in place on the telescope, the two secondary mirrors, which are indispensable for the telescope, were broken by the University of Arizona.
One was broken while being installed in the telescope and the other was broken at the University’s mirror lab. It will be at least several years before replacement mirrors are cast and ready for the telescope.
Since the telescope was originally designed, the University realized what studies had shown all along: Mount Graham is not suitable for a large telescope because of weather and other factors.
To compensate for the poor placement of the telescope, the University is attempting to add electronic correction equipment to the telescope to compensate for the poor “seeing.”
However, this equipment is a long way from being perfected.
Several fires devastated the top of Mount Graham in past years.
They were fought to protect the telescopes more than the ecosystem and, as a result, much damage was done to the Mountain that could have been avoided.
The Forest Service has decided to thin the forest and otherwise manipulate the ecosystem to try to protect what remains and to restore what has been damaged.
The final decision on what “treatments” will be carried out will be released soon.
However, there may still be time to weigh in with the Forest Service to make sure that any plan helps and not hurts the Mountain.
It also appears that, while the University is unwilling to voluntarily withdraw from Mount Graham, it does admit that serious mistakes were made that it does not to want to make again. Now is the time to gently work with the University to urge it to correct past mistakes.
Prayers and diligence are needed now more than ever for Mount Graham.
The ecosystem is under serious threat from climate change and other patterns of destruction; there is an opportunity for the Forest Service to deny a new permit for the telescopes and require they be removed; and there is a chance to protect the existing ecosystem and restore some of what has been lost.
And, the sacredness of Mount Graham continues to be challenged and, while the Mountain is able to protect itself, supporters can help to protect it.
For more information, contact the Mount Graham Coalition, Roger Featherstone, President, at or Dinah Bear, Secretary,
Arizona: San Francisco Peaks
The San Francisco Peaks are on federal land that is sacred to Apache, Hopi, Hualapai, Navajo, Yavapai and other Native nations.
The San Francisco Peaks are home to many sacred beings, medicine places and origin sites. Myriad ceremonies are conducted there for healing, well-being, balance, commemoration, passages and the world’s water and life cycles.
Indeed, the U.S. Forest Service has indicated that the San Francisco Peaks are sacred and holy to over thirteen Tribes in the southwestern United States.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, the Forest Service and the privately owned Snowbowl ski resort, which is located on the San Francisco Peaks, plan to expand the ski area and to use recycled sewage to make artificial snow.
The expansion and sewage-to-snow plans could have a disastrous impact on the Native religions and people and on the water and health of the entire region.
The creeping recreational development has concerned Native spiritual leaders and tribal officials for decades, but current plans far exceed the past activity at the resort.
The area is within the Coconino National Forest.
Native nations attempted to protect the San Francisco Peaks in court.
The District Court ruled for the development in January 2006.
In March 2007, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s decision and ruled for the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation and others.
A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit ruled that the Forest Service violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the National Environmental Policy Act in allowing the Snowbowl Resort to expand over 100 acres of rare alpine ecosystem, part of the area that is sacred to Native Peoples.
The federal government challenged that decision and petitioned the Ninth Circuit for rehearing en banc.
Such petitions are rarely granted, but the Court granted this one.
The case was argued in front of the 11-judge en banc panel of the Ninth Circuit in Pasadena in December 2007. The Ninth Circuit issued the decision of the en banc panel on August 8, 2008, ruling in favor of development.
The Native nations submitted a writ of certiorari for the U.S. Supreme Court. On June 8, 2009, the Supreme Court declined to review the decision.
The Tribes attempted to reach some sort of administrative accommodation with the new Administration, but such efforts have not borne fruit.
The Save the Peaks Coalition subsequently filed suit against the federal government on a NEPA issue.
Oral arguments on the case were scheduled for June 14, 2010.
The Court unilaterally issued a new order in May, requiring briefing on the issue of res judicata and rescheduling the oral argument to July 16, 2010, at the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Phoenix, Arizona.
Gatherings and prayer vigils are being held at the Courthouse.

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