Saturday, June 23, 2007

Native American leaders focus on holy sites

[Source: Joanna Dodder, The Bugle] -- American Indian officials spoke at the State Historic Preservation Conference in Prescott Thursday about their efforts to save their holy sites such as the San Francisco Peaks, Fossil Creek and Apache Leap. "We're here to let you know about some of the battles we're going through ... in order to continue to exist," said Vernelda Grant, tribal historic preservation officer and archaeologist for the San Carlos Apache Tribe. Destruction of one holy site impacts them all, added Angela Garcia-Lewis, assistant cultural resource specialist for the Gila River Indian Community. Grant has helped draft a Declaration of Unified Tribal Nations that calls for protection of holy places. "Many of these scenarios are repeating themselves across Arizona and the nation," said session moderator Alida Montiel, a Pascua Yaqui who is the health and cultural project specialist for the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona.

Archaeologists, historians and cultural resource specialists from the Yavapai-Apache, Gila River and San Carlos Apache tribes in Arizona all called for better understanding and communication from government officials. For example, government officials rely heavily on the written word when American Indians might have trouble putting their cultural perspectives into writing, said Barnaby Lewis, cultural resource specialist for the Gila River Indian Community. 'We want to get the message out that (documents) do not define us," Garcia-Lewis said. "A lot of tribes distrust the written word because it's not precise." Federal officials must consult with tribes about how projects on federal lands could impact their cultural resources on their ancestral lands. Private developers must report ancient burial sites. It would be better if they start that consultation in person instead of writing, she said. "We have to fight for our holy places because they're all off the reservation," noted Yavapai-Apache Historian Vincent Randall (pictured). Randall referred to his 2005 testimony in Prescott's federal courthouse against the Snowbowl ski area's plans to use wastewater for snowmaking on the San Francisco Peaks on the Coconino National Forest. Several Indian tribes still are battling the plans in court. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]