Formal Response from Indigenous Peoples to USDA Sacred Sites Report
United Nations Story 198

Formal Response from Indigenous Peoples to USDA Sacred Sites Report

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John Ahni Schertow
October 7, 2011
 

In this heartfelt letter, Indigenous Peoples formally respond to the USDA’s Draft Report on Sacred Sites, a document that will be used to determine the USDA’s policies and procedures for all sacred sites on “public lands” in the United States. The letter was originally posted at www.indigenousaction.org

“The Creator gave the Aboriginal Indigenous Nations of the People Laws to follow and responsibilities to care for all Creation. These instructions have been passed down from generation to generation from the beginning of Creation. It is the Law that no one can overpower the Creator’s Law, you are a part of Creation, thus if you break the Law, you are destroying yourself.

We speak on behalf of all Creation: the four legged/those that swim/those that crawl/those that fly/those that burrow in the Earth/the plant and tree Nations. This one life system includes the elements of fire, water, earth and air, the living environment of “Mother Earth”.

The Sanctity of the Creator’s Law has been broken. The balance of life has been disrupted. You come into life as a sacred being. If you abuse the sacredness of your life then you affect all Creation. The future of all life is now in jeopardy. We have now reached the crossroads. As Aboriginal Indigenous People we ask you to work with us to save the future of all Creation.”

Aboriginal Indigenous Nations of the People’s Message

The message above was brought forth, by Indigenous Elders and Medicine Peoples, at the threatened sacred mountain of the ancestors of the Huhugam. This message presented an opportunity to the United States of America for direct face-to-face dialogue with Indigenous Elders and Medicine People, which is necessary to assist and educate the Forest Service on how to conduct their activities to prevent damage, destruction and desecration to places held sacred by Indigenous Peoples.

As the Original Stewards of this Land, we are offended by the lack of sensitivity being shown to our position and we are discriminated against by having to respond in black and white with a foreign language that is not ours and does not convey the full depth of our concerns. We maintain the inherent responsibility that was given to us by the Creator to care for all Creation and to speak for our relatives that cannot be easily understood by the newcomers. We are united under the Creator’s Law to protect and extend Life for our future generations. Today, your understanding of a sacred site does not reflect what Indigenous Peoples know to be true about the places that we hold Sacred and Holy.

The “Report to the Secretary – USDA and Forest Service Policy and Procedures Review: Indian Sacred Sites” is without spirit and fails to provide meaningful and effective direction for the development of policies for the protection of Indigenous sacred places. There is nothing in the report that offers any new or real mechanisms to protect sacred places that create the foundations of our Way of Life as Indigenous Peoples. The activities of federal agencies continue to damage, destroy, and desecrate these sacred places. For instance, there is no mention in the report of how the Agency is going to protect sacred places from special use permits, third party contractors or resource extraction. And, there is no recognition of the fact that the United States has treaty, agreements and statutory obligations to Indigenous Peoples; these obligations surpass the Agency’s mission to provide multi-use activities. Recreational activities on our sacred lands do not reach the same threshold and should not be weighed equally with our Way of Life as Indigenous Peoples particularly when actions may result in negative consequences to the natural system of life.

Protection of what we hold Sacred as Indigenous Peoples surpasses domestic and international laws; it also requires adherence to the Creator’s Law, a Law that is indivisible and creates the spiritual foundations for Indigenous Nations and our Way of Life. For this reason, we specifically asked that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples be included in the document and noted as “a minimum standard”. This specific request was not included in the report. And, there is no mention of the Creator’s Law in the report. As Indigenous Peoples we do not separate ourselves from the Creator’s Law. The Creator’s Law is that All Life is Sacred, All Creation is Sacred. That is the Natural Law we cannot change or challenge.

The Forest Service states it cannot delegate decision-making authority for actions on National Forest System land to entities outside the federal government. However, the Creator never delegated the right of Creation and Destruction to the Forest Service. Yet, the Forest Service continues to destroy and desecrate the natural function of these lands, while trying to create new uses for these lands that have held their sacred purpose since the beginning of Creation. We, the Indigenous Peoples, have obligations and responsibilities that go beyond man-made domestic and international laws. We must adhere to the Creator’s Law and protect and maintain these sacred places and honor their sacred purposes. The Creator’s Law does not change so our obligations and responsibilities have not and will not change.

The report speaks of keeping sacred sites confidential for their protection, yet the Forest Service continues to move forward with its plans to damage, destroy, pollute and desecrate known and identified Holy places with telescopes, treated sewage effluent, resource extraction, further development, recreation and other damaging activities. As a result it is not prudent for Indigenous Peoples to provide federal agencies with information on sacred places and knowledge until a mutually acceptable and fully responsible system has been established for protecting the sacred places that have already been identified. Our knowledge is for us to protect and not for federal agencies to abuse. Only when a sacred area is threatened or revealed will it be interpreted by the Indigenous Elders and Medicine Peoples. Direction will then be given to the Forest Service on how to conduct their activities to prevent damage, destruction and desecration. Those born into this way of life understand that it is our responsibility not to give away the inherited rights of our future generations to those who do not value and understand our Way of Life. The only way to legitimately include authentic indigenous knowledge is to include the Indigenous Peoples, who are the true keepers of that spiritual knowledge throughout the entire process especially when decisions are being made. So you must come to the Indigenous Peoples, face-to-face, in order to get our free, prior and informed consent before plans are initiated that may affect Indigenous Peoples and the Creator’s Creation.

When you decide to move forward in a correct manner (that is with respect and dignity as human beings), then you will come to the Indigenous Peoples to consult face-to-face with an understanding that we need consensus before proceeding. Anything less falls short of developing a working relationship that is necessary with Indigenous Peoples to address critical issues and to benefit all Creation. The Forest Service has indicated that it wishes to engage in co-management of these lands with the Indigenous Peoples. However, the Forest Service has failed to recognize that our obligations and responsibilities go beyond the limitations of man-made laws. Our responsibilities include an obligation to speak on behalf of all Creation, to protect that sacredness that has been given to us by the Creator. The word “co-management” itself is inappropriate, because we don’t view our role as managers, but rather to protect and to live in harmony with all Creation. Once these foundational principles are understood and respected, we can begin discussions on how this balance can be achieved.

The Forest Service needs to understand that it is fully responsible and liable for the activities and actions that it allows and undertakes on our sacred lands and which negatively impact Indigenous Peoples and our Way of Life. The report singles out Forest Supervisors as having final authority for these decisions, but we remind you that all administrators and staff within any given line of authority will be held responsible for fulfilling obligations to all domestic laws, international laws and the Creator’s Law, which protect the Creator’s Creation and our Indigenous Way of Life. Line officers are not the only staff that require performance measures for this to work; these measures must be required of all public servants from the President, Members of Congress, Supreme Court Justices, USDA Secretary and all Forest Service line officers, especially since there is such a strong record for violation of and past inconsistent implementation of policies listed in the report. There is a need to immediately enforce and synthesize all current laws, policies and procedures and to create legitimate consequences for those who fail to follow these protocols.

We all need a healing. The report does not address how your Agency is going to right past wrongs and restore past damages that your Agency has caused. As Indigenous Peoples we strive to maintain balance and harmony with all Creation. Many years ago we received the message that this harmonious balance had been disrupted. We have sent messages of all types to every governmental body around the World including your Agency that we must begin to heal activities of the past that have led to damage, destruction, and desecration. To begin this healing process we must first stop these damaging activities to allow the natural healing process of Mother Earth to begin. The healing cannot begin until your Agency formally confronts the legacies of injustice to the water, air, land, plants, animals, trees, and all of the Creator’s Creation that you have damaged, destroyed and desecrated, including the Indigenous Peoples.

A healthy relationship between our Nations needs to be created. We noted your nondiscriminatory statement but also noted the omission of our spiritual way of life and sacred holdings in that statement. The United States of America has not honored its agreements to the original inhabitants of this land since the beginning of our relationship. This same lack of commitment to the agreements being made with the Indigenous Peoples continues to this day. For that reason we as Indigenous Peoples recommend that the Secretary as a first step towards reconciliation conduct an independent investigation into past and current human rights and environmental violations, including discriminatory practices, under both domestic and international law. The findings from this independent investigation should be made public and should include recommendations and plans to restore past damage and to prevent future harms to the Creator’s Creation and our Way of Life. Your laws get outdated and do not respond effectively to emerging threats such as treated sewage effluent, invasive species, antibiotic resistant genes and all other types of emerging and existing threats to the natural system of life. The United States’ 1872 mining law, for example, does not adhere to your best available science and does not adhere to the Creator’s Law. It must be changed if your laws as a Nation are to be taken seriously. Your science is flawed as it cannot predict with absolute certainty how Mother Earth will respond to your activities. Because you are blinded by laws and science that are economically driven, Indigenous Peoples, as the Original Stewards of this Land, must be involved in every aspect of your actions – planning, development and implementation– to ensure the protection of our Way of Life and to fulfill our obligations to the Creator and all Life. Another concern stated in the report is that the Agency lacks personnel, knowledge and funding. This means you lack the resources to fulfill your obligations to your laws, international laws and the Creator’s Law and should not be allowed to proceed with any plans until you are ready and able to be responsible for your actions and to fulfill all of your obligations.

We, as Indigenous Peoples, have a great responsibility to our children and all Life that must be honored and upheld. The covenant we have with the Creator requires us to consider the impacts of our decisions on the Creator’s Creation and the impact these decisions will have on the future of life. The Indigenous Elders, Medicine Peoples, Spiritual Leaders, Wisdom Keepers, Spiritual People and Those Who Carry Great Responsibilities for Their People will continue to fulfill their responsibilities to provide a future for the coming generations of Life and must be included in all planning and decisions affecting the natural system of life.

In order for us to move forward meaningfully we must first create a base understanding between us, to ensure that we are agreeing to speak about sacredness in a manner that is appropriate, respectful and with the dignity it requires. Otherwise, these discussions will fail to address the concerns of the Indigenous Peoples and to honor the Secretary’s request to create more effective policies for the protection of Indigenous sacred places. We have much more to share with you outside of this very limiting and discriminatory process, a process that does not reflect who we are as Indigenous Elders and Medicine Peoples. We want to be very clear that this is not consultation. True consultation requires those with decision-making authority to be willing to come to us formally, and sit with us face-to-face. Then we can initiate a true dialogue on how to proceed honorably to provide a future for All Life.

We are united under the Creator’s Law. We are from various Indigenous Nations and are spiritually related. We have been placed on our lands as Aboriginal Indigenous Nations of the People with sacred instructions and responsibilities placed within us by the Creator to follow the Laws of the Creator. Your Agency uses terms like federally recognized and federally unrecognized. We see this as your way of dividing the Indigenous Peoples. We are united under the Creator’s Law, as United Indigenous Nations, to protect and extend Life for all future generations.

We have worked through the Senior Advisor to Secretary Tom Vilsack to set up a two and a half hour meeting on October 12, 2011. The Indigenous Elders and Medicine Peoples intend to begin dialogue with Secretary Vilsack during this phone conference, rather than continuing to have these discussions filtered through his representatives. The Secretary is the representative for the United States regarding their position on the protection of our Indigenous Sacred Lands. The Secretary’s participation or lack of participation on this phone conference will reflect the United States commitment to creating a working relationship with the Indigenous Elders and Medicine Peoples to realign their way of life with the Creator’s natural system of life.

REPRESENTATIVES OF THE COUNCIL
Chief, Arvol Looking Horse
19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe
Spiritual Leader
Lakota, Dakota and Nakota Nations

Bobby C. Billie
Clan Leader and Spiritual Leader
Council of the Original Miccosukee
Simanolee Nation Aboriginal People

-ADDITIONAL SIGNATURES TO FOLLOW

ORAL STATEMENT DELIVERED TO FRED CLARK, DIRECTOR OFFICE OF
TRIBAL RELATIONS ON OCTOBER 4, 2011

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