Defending Sacred Places, Day One: Coming Together

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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