Thursday, March 23, 2006

Native Americans raise awareness of sacred sites

Native Americans raise awareness of sacred sites

Mar. 13, 2006
A UMNS Feature
By Linda Green*

Around the United States this spring, Native Americans and others are
holding marathons and other events to focus public attention on the ongoing
threats to the sacred places of indigenous people.

Native Americans throughout the United States are running in a relays and
marathons to ancient sites and mounds to connect with their pasts.
The runs have been under way since February, and United Methodist churches
have been providing hospitality to the runners. In the process,
congregations are learning about the plight of sacred sites, which are
threatened by housing, commercial and transportation development.

Sacred Sites Run 2006 also includes a traveling exhibit, "Ancient North
American Civilization," featuring historical sites that are recognized or
have the potential to be recognized by governing agencies. Runners are
gathering data at places where sites once existed and recording why they
were destroyed.

Native American sacred places are where native people practiced their
traditional religions and conducted rituals for peace for all of earth's
creation. Many of those sites have been desecrated and endangered by
pollution, looting, vandalism and federal allocation of lands. Laws exist to
protect Native American sacred sites, but in some areas, the laws are
ignored.

The United Methodist Church's lawmaking body adopted a resolution titled
"The Protection of Native American Sacred Sites" in 2000 and again in 2004.
In it, the church resolves that its Board of Church and Society should
continue supporting legislation that would provide for a legal cause of
action when sacred sites may be affected by governmental action. The
resolution calls on the board to communicate with the Senate Select
Committee on Indian Affairs to strengthen the American Indian Religious
Freedom Act of 1978 and to preserve traditional Native American sacred
sites.

"Cultural restoration and spiritual balance (are) needed in our communities
to bring about healing (for) ourselves as Native American people through the
remembrance of these ancient sites and the one-time grandeur of past
civilizations," said Melba Checote Eads, an organizer of a March 19 run
beginning at Pinson Mounds in Jackson, Tenn.

The Pinson Mounds, among the oldest in North America, are threatened by
development, Eads said. The 2006 Sacred Sites Run in the Southeast starts
there as an attempt to educate non-Native Americans and the United Methodist
Church about ancient civilizations and to emphasize that preserving ancient
earthworks is a "justice issue," she said. Eads is also coordinator of the
Native American Gatherers' Fellowship of Nashville, Tenn., and a member of
Leesville United Methodist Church, Lebanon, Tenn.

Runners, traveling 50 miles a day, will run from Wisconsin and throughout
the Southeast. States included in the run are Mississippi, Alabama,
Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois and Minnesota.
When the run ends Sept. 9 at Lake Park Mound in Mikwaukee, the runners will
have traveled more than 3,000 miles "to bring healing to our land,"
said Ben Yahola, a Native American United Methodist in Milwaukee.

Other runs include one that started in California and is scheduled to end in
Washington on Earth Day, April 22. That 71-day run is swinging through the
Gulf Coast, where participants will help with rebuilding areas damaged by
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Runners will be gathering soil near many Mississippian cultural sites,
dating back 12,000 years, and other sacred places to establish a symbolic
memorial in Milwaukee.

"This manner of bringing awareness to specific places is the first of a
series of peaceful symbolic actions that is to remind the public that the
descendants of mound builders continue to hold these ancient places sacred,"
Yahola said. The collection of soil from around areas where sacred sites
existed and exist today is not regarded as an act of destruction, since many
sites today are on private property.

Gathering the soil together from around the United States is also a way to
symbolize the migrations of native peoples who were removed from their lands
and to raise awareness of the connections that sacred sites have to Native
people, Yahola said.

"From the indigenous perspective, the run reaffirms the commitment to sacred
places, promotes cultural continuity and builds unity to promote mutual
understanding between nations, and generates national pride," he said.

Those wanting to join Sacred Sites Run 2006 or wanting more information may
visit http://www.sacredsitesrun.org.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville,
Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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