Protecting Mother Earth: The Battle to Defend Sacred Sites and the Indigenous Youth Movement “Government agencies and others in charge of protecting the relationships between our people, the land, air and water have repeatedly broken treaties and promises. In doing so, they have failed in their duty to uphold the tribal and the public trust. The many changes in these relationships have been well documented, but science remains inadequate for understanding their origins and essence. This scientific uncertainty has been misused to carry out economic, cultural and political exploitation of the land and resources. Failure to recognize the complexity of these relationships will further impair the future health of our people and function of the environment.” An excerpt from a statement presented at the 14th Protecting Mother Earth Conference hosted by the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) in Northern Minnesota. From July 6th to 9th, hundreds of indigenous people gathered in the beautiful homeland of the Leech Lake Anishinaabe Nation. People from Indigenous Nations and communities throughout the Americas discussed the challenges they face in the protection of their and our homelands. Mineral extraction, toxic contamination, unsustainable energy and climate change continue to plague Nations as environmental justice issues. At the gathering, IEN asked people to share strategies for battling these problems and to come together to seek new strategies to protect communities. We hear some voices from the gathering. We hear about the fight for the protection of sacred sites, at both Bear Butte, South Dakota and the San Francisco Peaks in northern Arizona. We hear how the Indigenous Environmental movement is standing ground as a human rights struggle. The Bemidji statement says: “We have the sacred right and obligation to protect the common wealth of our lands and the common health of our people and all our relations for this generation and seven generations to come. We are the Guardians for the 7th generation.” Carter Camp, speaking at the 14th Protecting Mother Earth Conference. For more information visit: www.defendbearbutte.org
Across the Great Plains over 30 Indigenous Nations acknowledge the sacredness of Bear Butte and it’s surrounding area, which is the Black Hills. It is a mountain inhabited by spirits and spiritual powers that are well known to the native people of the Great Plains. They say Bear Butte is central to ceremonial life and necessary for their health and well being. But now, plans to build enormous biker bars and campsites around the sacred mountain are forcing the Great Plains people to take up a fight. The new development hopes to attract the more than 600,000 bikers attending the “Sturgis Bike Rally” in August. The indigenous defenders say “Never since Custer discovered gold has our Mato Paha been threatened by such a combination of greed, government and legal adversity.” Traditional Indian people have been fighting to save the mountain for centuries. In 1876, Chief Sitting Bull gathered over 6000 Indians at the Butte to urge them to defend the sacred lands. Chief Crazy Horse spoke from the mountain to remind his people that the Paha Sapa is not for sale. Other battles followed, one lost in the US court system in the 1980s when Chief Fools Crow brought it to the Supreme Court. At the Protecting Mother Conference this year, Carter Camp described the current battle and made a rallying call to action to protect Bear Butte. Tom Goldtooth, Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, for more information visit www.ienearth.org.
The Indigenous Environmental Network holds the Protecting Mother Earth conferences to help Indigenous Peoples confront many challenges on both the local and global level. I asked the director of IEN – Tom Goldtooth – to talk about the 14th gathering held in the homeland of the Leech Lake Anishinaabe Nation. Alberta Nells, Dine member of the Save the Peaks Coalition, for more information visit www.sacredland.org. From many places in northern Arizona, the horizon is dramatically marked by three 12,000-foot volcanic peaks that rise out of the Colorado Plateau south of the Grand Canyon. The San Francisco Peaks are sacred to 13 tribes. For the Navajo, the Peaks are the sacred mountain of the west, called “Shining On Top.” They are a key boundary marker and a place where medicine men collect herbs for healing ceremonies. To the Hopi, the Peaks are “The Place of Snow on the Very Top,” home for half of the year to the ancestral kachina spirits who live among the clouds around the summit. When properly honored through song and ceremony, the kachinas bring gentle rains to thirsty corn plants. The peaks are one of the “sacred places where the Earth brushes up against the unseen world,” in the words of Yavapai-Apache Chairman Vincent Randall. At the Protecting Mother Earth conference, Alberta Nells traveled from Arizona to learn strategies for protecting these peaks. She is a part of the coalition to save the peaks, and is only 16 years old. I caught up with her at the conference and asked her about her role as a youth in protecting sacred sites.