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A Canyon Deserves a Monument for Preservation

Project: Native Women Leaders and Advocates Defending Sacred Places in the Southwest

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In Utah, a tribal coalition of Ute Mountain, Uintah and Ouray Utes, Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni tribes has been formed with a singular goal: To achieve monument status from the federal government for the Allan Canyon band of Ute Mountain. They propose to name it Bears Ears National Monument.

Photo: Jim Mimiaga/The Journal
Photo: Jim Mimiaga/The Journal

“It’s never been done, all the tribes working together,” said Octavius Seowtewa, a Zuni cultural leader. “We as native peoples are banding together to work for the protection of Bears Ears instead of bickering about past issues.”

Read the full story here.

Government Cancels Oil Lease near Blackfeet Reservation

Project: Native Women Leaders and Advocates Defending Sacred Places in the Southwest

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The Bureau of Land Management has made a final decision to cancel a 30 year old gas exploration lease held by a Louisiana oil company on a remote section of Lewis and Clark National Forest, since oil leasing is now banned there. The National Forest is also within the territories of the Blackfeet Reservation.

Photo: Tribune file photo
Photo: Tribune file photo

To the Blackfeet, it is the “Backbone of the World” where they were created, and associated with culturally important spirits, heroes and historic figures central to Blackfeet religion and traditional practices. Today, it’s part of a designated Traditional Cultural District.

You can read more about the historic decision here.

The Fight Over Arizona’s San Francisco Peaks

Project: Native Women Leaders and Advocates Defending Sacred Places in the Southwest

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Source: Indian Country Today Media Network
Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

The San Francisco Peaks are a sacred to over a dozen native tribes in the southwest. They have also long been the hotbed of controversial views and court battles going back to 2000. The Arizona Snowbowl, a ski resort located on land managed by the forest service on the Peaks, entered into a partnership with the City of Flagstaff to use reclaimed wastewater to make fake snow. The Hopi, filed a suit against the city, and then recently voted unanimously to support the implementation of a filtration system if they withdrew their lawsuit. However, the citizens of Flagstaff have only just been made aware of the recent deal (per confidential requirements by law) and thus, the people have been unable to voice their say, including the 12 other tribes that consider the Peaks sacred. Many -Native and non-native alike, have voiced their opinion that they don’t believe the filter will be enough.

The treated wastewater is already required to meet water quality standards set by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, but critics have long complained that some pollutants, including hormones and pharmaceuticals, get through the city’s treatment systems and threaten human and environmental health.

Read the rest of the article here.

How do we defend sacred places?

Project: Native Women Leaders and Advocates Defending Sacred Places in the Southwest

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The WEA Advocacy Delegation traveled from Elko, NV to Flagstaff, AZ. We spent a remarkable and deeply moving day with Carrie Dann, Western Shoshone elder and long-time land rights activist, as well as Julie Cavanaugh-Bill, the trailblazing attorney for the Western Shoshone Defense Project.

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Carrie, along with her nephew and Julie’s husband Larson, brought us to Mt. Tenabo – a place that is fundamental to the Shoshone creation story, and is also the site of the largest open pit cyanide heap leach gold mine in the United States. We saw and felt the impact of this devastating and ever-expanding mine on the Western Shoshone people, the living land, and the unborn future generations.

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We’re now on our way to connect with women leaders in the Navajo and Havasupai tribes, women who stand at the helm of campaigns to protect their peoples’ sacred mountains from extractive industry and commercial development. As we witness each of these unique yet linked threats to environmental and cultural cohesion, we naturally seek to understand the roots of the problem. On what terms do our decision-makers justify these impacts to the earth and to whole communities’ ways of life? How does our system of laws and policies view the sacred?

Luke Cole, the late pioneer of environmental justice law, spoke of environmental injustice not as a legal problem, but as a political and economic one. Even our most powerful environmental laws are simply not designed to protect the interests of indigenous communities when it comes to resource extraction, because those laws themselves derive from the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. We protect the environment to the extent that it’s good for business. Beyond that, though, there aren’t legal or policy protections for our inherent rights to a clean and healthy environment, for the rights of indigenous peoples to live according to their traditions, or for the earth’s rights itself to be unharmed. The U.S. Supreme Court has said several times that when it comes to a clash between development of the earth for economic profit, and constitutionally-protected freedom of religion for indigenous peoples, development will win.

Moreover, laws like the 1872 Mining Law support activities that affirmatively harm communities and land. This law was written in the time when people mined using picks and shovels, long before environmental regulation — so today, it essentially allows mining companies free reign to extract with impunity. And we heard from Carrie and Larson that when protective laws do exist, mining companies usually find a way around them.

Given these conditions, how do we call for the urgently-needed shift in policy that is needed to leave water and minerals in the ground, stop contamination, and protect the sacred earth so that future generations may live?

As we travel, our intrepid delegates are already brainstorming innovative strategies at the nexus of legal action, policy advocacy, public awareness and green business development. We will use our personal and professional networks to educate people about the grave impacts of our consumption choices. We will join in with our indigenous allies to call for the implementation of indigenous rights frameworks at the national and international levels.

And within WEA’s Sacred Earth Advocacy Network, we will use our expertise and resources to provide urgently-needed pro bono legal, policy, and business advocacy support to the women leaders we are in dialogue with this week and to all of WEA’s indigenous project partners. We will stand with these courageous leaders to demand environmental protection and respect for the rights of indigenous peoples, and to point the way to sustainable, just strategies for economic development.

Protecting the San Francisco Peaks

Project: Native Women Leaders and Advocates Defending Sacred Places in the Southwest

Topics: ,

SF-peaks-advocacy-network

On the outskirts of Flagstaff, Arizona lies a sacred mountain called the San Francisco Peaks. It is a place of profound spiritual significance to Dine, Hopi, Apache, Havasupai and others, who consider it one of the four sacred mountains of this region of the Southwest. Native people from around the region come to the mountain to harvest medicinal and sacred herbs, as well as to heal and pray.

In 2004, a coalition of Indigenous communities, concerned citizens, agencies, business people, religious and spiritual leaders, skiers, snowboarders, conservationists, students, teachers and taxpayers joined together to prevent Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort from unnecessary expansion and use of 180 million gallons of “reclaimed wastewater” for snowmaking. This coalition became known as Save the Peaks Coalition and they committed to protecting the San Francisco Peaks. Save the Peaks Coalition advocates for respect and the protection of the sacred mountain by holding prayer vigils and gatherings, raising public awareness, as well as supporting lawsuits by tribes and environmental groups to stop the expansion and snowmaking with wastewater.

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Jeneda Benally is a Dine leader and daughter of World champion Hoop dancer and traditional Navajo consultant Jones Benally. Jeneda is one of the core members of Save the Peaks Coalition, along with her two brothers, Klee and Clayson Benally. She serves as spokeswoman for the Navajo Nation Tribal Employee Program and is one of the founders of Indigenous Youth Network. Jeneda Benally is also the bassist in the Alter-Native rock band, Blackfire along with her two brothers. Blackfire lyrics focus on government oppression, relocation of Indigenous people, eco-cide, genocide, domestic violence and human rights. Jeneda is also an accomplished storyteller, actress, model, artist and jewelry maker. Some of the dances she performs include Northern Fancy Shawl, Changing Woman, Feather, Corn Grinding and many more.

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