National Sacred Places Prayer Days Begins Today
Today marks the beginning of three days of ceremonies and observances being held across Turtle Island for 2014 National Days of Prayer to Protect Native American Sacred Places.
“Native and non-Native people gather at this Solstice time for ceremonies and events to honor sacred places, but everyone can honor these precious lands and waters all the time by simply respecting them and not allowing them to be harmed,” said Suzan Shown Harjo, Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee. She is president of The Morning Star Institute, which organizes the National Sacred Places Prayer Days. “Observances are necessary,” she said, “in order to call attention to Native peoples’ myriad struggles with developers who are endangering or destroying Native sacred places.”
Many observances are open to the public, but some are private. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1988 that there is no constitutional or statutory cause of action to defend Native sacred places. “Native Peoples are the only people or group in the U.S. who do not have a door to the courthouse to protect sacred places or site-specific ceremonies,” Harjo said. “That must change as a simple matter of fairness and equity. Sadly, the Obama administration has backed developers that are desecrating sacred places and has done little to protect sacred places. The very least it can do is ask Congress to enact a statutory right of action.”
The National Congress of American Indians has called for better protection of sacred sites using existing laws and policies.
Many feel that President Barack Obama hasn’t lived up to campaign promises. During his 2008 presidential campaign, then-Senator Obama addressed this issue in his Native American policy platform for religious freedom, cultural rights and sacred places protection: “Native American sacred places and site-specific ceremonies are under threat from development, pollution, and vandalism. Barack Obama supports legal protections for sacred places and cultural traditions, including Native ancestors’ burial grounds and churches.”
Toward the end of 2012, five federal entities—Defense, Interior, Agriculture, Energy and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation—signed a five-year Memorandum of Understanding “to improve the protection of and tribal access to Indian sacred sites through improved interdepartmental coordination and collaboration.”
“The MOU does nothing of substance to protect sacred places, but provides for recommendations and a report by the end of 2017, the first year of the next Administration,” says a press release from The Morning Star Institute.
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