Tuesday, October 19, 2010

More than two dozen sites sacred to Native Americans are at risk of being destroyed by 'development at any cost'


Saving North America's sacred sites

More than two dozen sites sacred to Native Americans are at risk of being
destroyed by 'development at any cost'

By John Schertow
Monday 18 October 2010 16.00 BST

Whether it's an ancient burial ground, a simple cave that witnessed the
birth of a language not heard in centuries or the mountain home of a spirit
that brings abundance to an entire ecosystem, every culture has its sacred
sites. They provide an irreplaceable sense of continuity, identity, purpose,
sustenance and fulfillment.

However, one culture's sacred site may be nothing more than empty space to
another. This is frequently the case in countries such as Canada and the US,
where more than two dozen sacred sites are in danger of being
desecrated and destroyed.

One such site currently making a lot of headlines is the Glen Cove burial
site and shell mound in Vallejo, California. Over the course of 3,500 years,
the 15-acre site, known to the Ohlone peoples as Sogorea Te, was a
traditional meeting place for more than 100 indigenous nations. Over the
centuries, it became the final resting place for thousands of people.

However, as far as the Greater Vallejo Recreation District (GVRD) and the
city of Vallejo are concerned, the site is simply undeveloped land which,
they say, they have a "responsibility" to put to good use. That's why
they're about to convert the entire site into a public park with its own
trails, picnic tables, toilets and parking lot. Native American are using
lobby groups at every level of government. If they fail, we are all
diminished. Native Americans say the plan couldn't be more insulting or
sacrilegious. But the GVRD and their partners are beyond reproach. A court
ruling may not even stop them from getting their way.

Another site making headlines is Fish Lake, also known as Teztan Biny, in
south-central British Columbia. Canadian company Taseko Mines wants to empty
the pristine lake so it can use it as a permanent storage site for its toxic
mine waste rock.

The proposal is beyond unacceptable to the Xeni Gwet'in, who are part of the
Tsilhqot'in nation, because the lake and surrounding area is so important to
them: it's the site of pit houses and burial grounds, a place
of worship and ceremony, a school for children to learn their culture and a
place to gather foods and medicines. The lake itself is home to an endemic
species of rainbow trout that Taseko wants to transport to a brand new,
smaller, man-made lake that can't accommodate the current trout population.

In essence, Taesko's plan, which could be approved any day, will rob the
indigenous people of their cultural, religious and economic wealth. Whether
we're talking about Glen Cove, Teztan Biny or any other endangered sacred
site, there is a cultural conflict at play that casually disregards
religious beliefs, human rights and people's basic needs.

It is "development at any cost", which is a cultural belief like any other,
but one that is decimating what Wade Davis has termed the "ethnosphere". A
National Geographic explorer-in-residence, Davis defines the ethnosphere as
"the sum total of all thoughts and dreams, myths, intuitions and
inspirations brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of
consciousness . humanity's great legacy." Sacred sites are part of it. And
without them a culture may lose its foundation, making it as vulnerable as a
human body no immune system.

Indigenous peoples are doing what they can to protect such a wealth, but
it's an uphill battle. In many cases they're going at it alone: against
corporations, their lobby groups and every level of government. If they
fail, we are all diminished.


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