Tribes push action on sacred sites
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The Department of Interior's sole representative at a forum on tribal lands came under fire on Wednesday for the government's record on the protection of sacred sites.

Tribal leaders and representatives were unrelenting as they blasted the department for allowing what they called a wholesale destruction of their religious rights. They directed their anger at Jim Pace, a career bureaucrat filling in for Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb, who had a prior engagement.

"If I went over in the Vatican," said John Brown, the historic preservation officer for the Narragansett Tribe of Rhode Island, "and urinated in an office or defecated in a hall, I would never get out of jail. It would be the most horrendous and horrific crime. But these things are done on our sacred sites every day and nobody cares."

"I don't have the time and inclination to listen to the lies," he said, referring directly to his dealings with the Office of American Indian Trust, which is headed by Pace.

Mike Jackson (*), President of the Quechan Nation of Arizona and California, was equally critical. His tribe has been fighting to protect hundreds of culturally significant trails and sites and convinced the Clinton administration to deny a gold mine in the area.

But due to the political whims of the Bush administration, the tribe's victory was erased "like snapping a finger," he said. He accused Secretary Gale Norton and Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles of acting to reverse the decision "without even giving a thought to meet with us."

"The trust responsibility still lacks in all areas," Jackson said. He added: "In the final end, we're not going to lose. We simply won't lose. I'll tell you that right now."

Pace wasn't given time to respond to the complaints, which came at the end of a panel discussion held at the Interior. But earlier, he said there has been "positive momentum" and pointed to a case involving the Hoopa Valley Tribe of California and new sentencing guidelines regarding the destruction of cultural artifacts.

He also said McCaleb was reconvening a working group on the issue pursuant to an executive order signed by former President Bill Clinton. "Our society has a moral authority to protect sacred lands," he said.

Other panelists agreed there has been improvements in recent years. Suzan Harjo, an activist whose work contributed to the passage of the landmark 1990 repatriation law, said federal agencies have played a role in preserving sites "acre by acre, bucket by bucket, rock by rock."

"It's a very different world," she said. "How wonderful that has happened."

Tex Hall, president of the National Congress of American Indians, which co-sponsored the forum, said part of the problem is tribal dependence on the federal government. Since policies and funding can change at whim, he encouraged tribes to work together because the government isn't fulfilling its obligations.

"When is enough enough?" he asked.

*Ed. Note: Due to a reporting error, the first name of the President of the Quechan Nation was incorrectly stated. His name is Mike Jackson.

Related Documents:
Executive Order No. 13007: Indian Sacred Sites (May 24, 1996)

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