Mount Taylor Will Be Protected, Case Sets Sacred Sites Precedent
Mount Taylor, an 11,300-foot, snow-capped peak in central New Mexico, will be protected as a traditional cultural property following the state Supreme Court’s ruling February 6 that upheld the mountain’s designation as a sacred site.
An extinct volcano, Mount Taylor is considered sacred by the Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Acoma and Laguna people and is an important pilgrimage site for as many as 30 tribes. The ruling, which came 17 months after the high court heard the case, is expected to set a precedent for similar cases across the nation that involve sites sacred to indigenous people.
“At the end of the day, it’s not just a piece of property with cultural or historical significance,” said James Zion, an attorney practicing law on the Navajo Nation since 1981. “There’s a human rights component here.”
The Pueblo of Acoma spearheaded an effort to get the site protected as a traditional cultural property under state law. Three pueblos and the Navajo and Hopi tribes submitted statements detailing the significance of the mountain, said Jan Biella, New Mexico state archaeologist.
“One of the things that is so outstanding about this nomination is that it was prepared by the tribes,” she said. “It told the story that the tribes had to tell.”
For the Navajo, Mount Taylor—or Tso Dzil—is one of the four sacred mountains. The Acoma Pueblo calls it Kaweshtima, or “place of snow.”
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