Comanche Tribal Chairman Wallace Coffey, once targeted along with the Native American Rights Fund by Denver police in secret spy files, and Faith Spotted Eagle, Yankton activist and cofounder of Braveheart Society, were among the speakers at the summit on sacred placed in Santa Fe. Photo Brenda Norrell
Jimmy Arterbetty has a message for scientists: Tell us where your ancestors are buried. Photo Brenda Norrell
Summit on sacred places honors ancestors
By Brenda Norrell
SANTA FE, N.M. -- American Indians protecting burial sites and sacred places gathered from throughout the nation in unity, creating a new spiritual bond, realizing the time is now for others to hear of the responsibility to carry on for the ancestors.
Jimmy Arterberry, Commanche Nation tribal and historic preservation officer in Oklahoma, had a message for scientists.
"Let us know where your ancestors are buried," Arterberry said during the three-day Summit on Consultation Protocols to Protect Native American Sacred Places. "We all have the right to rest in peace.
"We literally are still prisoners of war to the scientific professions." He said when archaeologists are told no photos and no sketching of sacred places, they never give up.
"What part of no do you people not understand? We are not scientific property."
Petuuche Gilbert said his people of Acoma Pueblo are protecting their ancestral lands and decline to engage in collaboration with the U.S. military to allow development on their lands.
"Acoma are a peaceful people." Gilbert said progress in protecting the sacred would only come through a united collaboration. "Our ancestors are waiting for us."
It was the passion of the Plains tribes that led the summit to its high point. Tim Mentz, Standing Rock Sioux tribal historic preservation officer, said he came to view the Petroglyphs, those sacred symbols of the Pueblos here.
"They are not rock art, they are made by the spirits. They are made by people who have been given a gift."
"We are still fighting to bring back our relatives. It is the insensitivity of federal agencies that makes us cry."
In Congress, legislation violates the spiritual cycle and the riders make him cringe. "They put riders in huge bills to get what they want."
As for Congress, he said, "They dont have a clue what is going on in Indian country." He said the Bush administrations attack on resources and sacred places of honor are obvious now.
"What we dont know is their agenda."
Looking at the direction of the work ahead, he said, "Only our elders can tell us." Those engaged in the work of protecting the sacred must realize "there is a price to pay, a payment that has to happen to protect sacred places."
Faith Spotted Eagle, Ihanktonwan Dakota/Nakota, shared news of the creation of the Braveheart Society for grandmothers to mentor girls and young women. After she decided to have a positive effect on at least 100 girls in her lifetime, she said girls began to arrive for the quest.
Spotted Eagle showed a video of the struggle to protect the Missouri River from dams and destruction, revealing the passion of the Yankton Sioux confronting federal officials.
With beauty and clarity, Charmaine Whiteface, Oglala Lakota, appealed for help in protecting the sacred Black Hills in South Dakota. The coordinator of the Defenders of the Black Hills said logging of the last pristine 3 percent of the Black Hills could begin at any moment because of a rider placed in a terrorism bill which prevents Lakota from going to court to halt it.
Juana Majel Dixon, Pauma-Luiseno, told of the horrible death and destruction from the recent California fires and how sacred places were exposed. Showing a map of burned Indians lands, Dixon described Indian people being burned to death as they reached for their car doors.
Lois Sweet Dorman, Snoqualmie, described her tribes efforts to protect their sacred Snoqualmie Falls. Southern Ute urged prayer and the return of the remains of the ancestors from museum shelves. A delegation from Zuni Pueblo shared the success of halting a coal mine near their sacred Zuni Salt Lake.
However, before the Phoenix-based Salt River Project halted its mine plans, seven ancestors were unearthed. Now, the state of New Mexico and Bureau of Land Management are leasing land in the area for coal, oil and gas development.
With good Commanche humor, Wallace Coffey, chairman of the Commanche Nation, joined Suzan Shown Harjo, president of the Morning Star Institute and Frances Wise, Wichita and Caddo, among the session moderators.
Quechan attorney Courtney Ann Coyle, described the struggle of fighting a gold mine and protecting ancestral land along the California and Arizona border.
"This is a place of Creation, with ancient trails, with prayer circles," Coyle said, adding that the gold mine was permitted without any consultation with the Quechan Nation.
The three-day summit began with a tour of the Petroglyphs near Albuquerque, sacred to the Pueblos, and a tour of the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks Monument of Cochiti Pueblo.
Among the articulate speakers was Jicarilla Apache Carey N. Vicenti, an Appellate Court Justice for Mississippi Choctaw, Saginaw Chippewa and Yavapai-Apache tribes. He is also a professor of sociology at Fort Lewis College in Colorado.
"Except for the lawyers in this room, I dont care much for lawyers," Vicenti said, urging unity and collaboration in the struggle to protect the sacred so truth can be revealed.
Vicenti made it clear that what is sacred to Native people today was sacred before the white man came to this land. "They all have power, they all have spirits."
Beginning in 1492, there was a holocaust and today there must be healing. This healing includes moving away from the bounds of structures and preconceptions preventing Native people from knowing their freedom and destiny.
Vicenti urged indigenous to think of themselves as tribalists, emerging on a global scale.
Jeneda Benally, Dine and band member of Blackfire, said it is important to include young people in the struggle. She said she has been learning medicine plants from her father, a medicine man from Big Mountain, Ariz., and they need to know how to protect the plants without giving information to pharmaceutical companies, which exploit the knowledge for commercial gain.
Vicenti recommended first finding out the scientific names, and then following with an action from the tribe, which states each plant, is considered a protective species in the region. He recommended going directly to ranchers and farmers and telling them of the need to gather the plants, adding that they would have an exalted place in the history of the tribe if they work together with Indian people.
The summit, held at the Picuris Pueblo-owned Hotel Santa Fe downtown, was sponsored by the Coalition to Protect Native American Sacred Places and organized by the Association on American Indian Affairs and the Morning Star Institute. Planners included federal agencies; funders included the International Indian Treaty Council.
When the summit concluded, there was high praise.
Carol J. Jorgensen, Tlingit, said, "What works for us is who we are. It is empowering. We know our blood, we know our heritage."