Defending Sacred Places, Day One: Coming Together

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The journey has begun! 

Five incredible women stepped off the plane this morning in Elko, Nevada, welcomed by a blue sky, expansive landscape and the snowcapped Ruby Mountain range. Each of these women is a dynamic leader in environmental law, policy and business – ranging from years of dedicated environmental litigation practice, to visionary policy work, to innovation in business. Each woman brings her own unique style and perspective, and yet all have in common a fierce love for the earth, and a passionate determination to promote justice for all peoples.


These women – Lauralee Barbaria, Director of the Green MBA program at Dominican University; Sarah Diefendorf, Director of the Environmental Finance Center Region IX; Carolyn Raffensperger, Executive Director of the Science and Environmental Health Network; Janet Wallace, author and longtime environmental attorney; and Ann Winterman, human rights advocate – along with the Women’s Earth Alliance team, are our traveling community for the next week.


We have come on this Delegation, Defending Sacred Places in the Southwest, to learn, build relationships with indigenous women leading environmental justice campaigns, and become empowered as advocates. We are here to witness, and work towards the eradication of, grave environmental injustice and human rights violations on indigenous lands.


We are here because . . .
. . . Western Shoshone lands are the third largest gold producing area in the world, and because Nevada’s gold mines create 86% of the nation’s total toxic mercury waste.
. . . The San Francisco Peaks are the holiest of shrines for Navajo, and threatened contamination renders the people unable to maintain daily and annual religious practices comprising an entire way of life.
. . . In some Northern Arizona Native communities, at least one member of every family is thought to have died from cancer or other diseases caused by uranium mining. 

And we are here because women — as community caregivers, resource stewards, and guardians of future generations — stand at the forefront of every single one of these crises, demanding change and calling forth alternative systems and ways of being.


Over the course of this week, we will explore the tension between our shared system of laws and policies which allows, and even condones, the exploitation of indigenous lands and communities in the name of fossil fuels, with the system of L.A.W.S. – land, air, water, sun – that indigenous peoples know a society must respect in order to live in harmony and prosperity. Through inquiry, listening, and community-building, we will form a new understanding of our role in transforming systems to support life and ensure justice. 

Check back in tomorrow, for a report from Janet Wallace about our time with the Western Shoshone leaders as they work to protect holy Mt. Tenabo from the largest open pit heap leach cyanide gold mine in the United States. Thank you for coming along!

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Young Women Lead the Way to Green Economic Development on the Navajo Nation

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Women Earth Alliance’s Caitlin Sislin wrote a piece about the Navajo Nation on The WIP.
She writes, “Thanks to a diverse array of activist leaders at the helm of groups like Black Mesa Water Coalition (BMWC) and the Navajo Green Economy Coalition (NGEC), the Navajo Nation is moving towards a sustainably powered bright future. Women’s leadership has played a central role in bringing forth the shift towards collective support for green economic development that is in alignment with traditional Navajo life ways.”
Read the full article here!

Sacred Sites Advocacy Delegation begins Sunday

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The first 2010 Women’s Earth Alliance Advocacy Delegation, Defending Sacred Places in the Southwest, begins on Sunday in Elko, NV. Five dynamic, highly-skilled and experienced women advocates will spend one week meeting with indigenous women environmental justice leaders for a journey of immersive learning and collaboration.

3740955666_77362b8fa6_oOur Delegation will begin our journey this Sunday in northern Nevada, where the Western Shoshone people confront threats to their lifeways and holy places due to forced relocation, mineral extraction, particularly gold mining, and nuclear waste disposal. The Delegation will meet with Julie Cavanaugh-Bill, former Counsel for the Western Shoshone Defense Project and chief architect of the legal strategy that led to unprecedented international legal victories on behalf of the Western Shoshone. We will also meet Carrie Dann, Shoshone elder and outspoken environmental and human rights leader. We will visit sacred Mt. Tenabo, site of one of the largest open pit cyanide heap leach gold mines in America.


From there, the Delegation will travel to the Alpine terrain of Northern Arizona, where we’ll meet the dedicated leaders of the Save the Peaks Coalition, a movement to defend the sacred San Francisco Peaks mountain – holy to 13 tribes, including the Navajo – from desecration through the use of reclaimed wastewater as artificial snow on the mountain’s ski resort. From the Coalition’s attorney, we will learn about the cutting edge of federal and state litigation to protect sacred sites.

Finally, we will travel to the Grand Canyon, and meet with the courageous women and men at the helm of the Havasupai tribe’s campaign to protect their ancestral homelands from uranium mining. We will visit Red Butte, site of a proposed uranium mine and central to the Havasupai’s creation story.

WEA’s Advocacy Delegations are unique opportunities for women advocates and activists to come together, bridging cultures and life experiences to strengthen a shared vision of sustainability and justice on earth. During these multi-day journeys of experiential education, women advocates learn first-hand about systemic environmental injustices affecting indigenous lands and communities, connect with indigenous women leaders committed to ensuring environmental justice and indigenous rights, and expand their capacity to generate solutions to these systemic problems. Through dialogue and participatory learning, advocates build a foundation for sustained collaborative engagement with indigenous environmental justice leaders, within the Sacred Earth Advocacy Network of Women’s Earth Alliance.

Stay tuned for our posts from the road!


The Black Mesa Mine Mess

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Women Earth Alliance’s Caitlin Sislin has written on High Country News about the current opportunity for comment regarding the Peabody Western Coal Company’s water permit review process.  She writes:

“A controversial clean water permit for a coal mine complex sited at a Navajo and Hopi sacred mountain is once again up for review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Peabody Western Coal Company seeks a renewal of its water quality permit for the Black Mesa/ Kayenta Mine Complex, despite the mine’s impact on water quality and local public health over several decades because of discharges of toxic heavy metals and pollutants into the water supply.
EPA invites the public to submit comments through April 30th on the previously-withdrawn National Pollution Discharge Elimination System Permit pursuant to the Clean Water Act, which requires that all industrial dischargers of wastewater obtain and maintain a permit.”

Her full article can be read here.

Will you answer Caitlin’s call to action?  Share your comments with the EPA by April 30, 2010.  You can do so here (it’s notice # NN0022179).  Or call the EPA’s John Tinger at (415) 972-3518 or by email at