The 2016 National Days of Prayer to Protect Native American Sacred Places are upon us. There are many places across Turtle Island that need prayers—in the following weeks ICTMN will focus on just a few.
Here are four sacred places that need your prayers.
Hickory Ground ceremonial and burial grounds in Wetumpka, Alabama is in need of prayer to protect Hickory Ground and surrounding sacred areas along the Coosa River.
Hickory Ground, a sacred ceremonial burial ground, was the last capitol of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation before forced removal along the Trail of Tears to Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma. In order to develop a casino resort, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians—a group that was recognized in 1984 and entrusted with protecting Hickory Ground—excavated 57 known sets of human remains from Hickory Ground.
“The Muscogee (Creek) Nation is committed to protecting the burial and ceremonial grounds of our ancestors,” Principal Chief George Tiger says on SaveHickoryGround.org. “We have attempted to convey to the Poarch Band why it is wrong to disturb the peace of our ancestors and burial grounds. However, the Poarch Band does not seem to share our cultural values and respect our traditional ways.”
Mount Graham in Arizona is sacred to the Western Apache and is known to the San Carlos Apache as Dzil Nchaa Si An. The mountain is a holy landscape where Gaan or Mountain Spirits reside and ancestral Apache rest. It is a place of ceremonies, a place where medicinal plants are grown, and it is home to the endangered red squirrel. Recent estimates of the red squirrel population suggest there are just over 200 left on the mountain.
In the 1980s, the University of Arizona chose Mount Graham as the site to construct an observatory with seven large telescopes known as the Columbus Project. Many have resisted the decision to build the telescopes for years, and after 20 years of construction, the project remains incomplete.
The old growth forests on Mount Graham’s summit are the Arizona equivalent of rainforests—called a “Sky Island” ecosystem. Frequent cloud cover makes telescope viewing marginal—Mount Graham ranked 38th in a study of astronomical sites in the United States—but the cool, moist properties on the mountain have helped 18 plants and animals evolve that are found nowhere else in the world.
The San Francisco Peaks in Arizona are sacred to Apache, Hopi, Hualapi, Navajo, Yavapai, and other Native nations. They are home to many sacred beings, medicinal plants, and origin sites. Many ceremonies are conducted on the peaks for healing, well-being, commemoration, passages, and the world’s water and life cycles.
The San Francisco Peaks are located on federal land within the Coconino National Forest. Also on the peaks is the privately-owned Snowbowl ski resort, which has a plan to expand its ski area and use recycled sewage to make artificial snow. This expansion and sewage-to-snow plan could have a disastrous affect on Native religions and on the region’s water.
Snowbowl plan includes clear cutting 74 acres of rare alpine habitat, which is home to threatened species, and to building a 14.8-mile buried pipeline to transport up to 180 million gallons of wastewater per season. Despite protests, pipeline construction has begun.
The Hopi Tribe is currently in litigation with the City of Flagstaff over their contract to sell up to 180 million gallons of wastewater per season to Snowbowl for producing the artificial snow—the suit charges that the contract represents a public nuisance.
The Wakarusa Wetlands in Lawrence, Kansas are still being turned into a massive eight-lane road by the Kansas Department of Transportation. The roadway is being built right through the heart of this historically significant refuge that played a key role in the survival of traditional cultures and languages during the dark days of the boarding school era.
For more than 20 years, opposition to the project has been led by alumni and students at Haskell Indian Nations University, which started as a boarding school in 1884. The focus of the resistance today is the building of wetlands access features, boardwalks, wildlife tunnels, and bridges that allow students access to areas south of the campus.
In its boarding school days, the Wakarusa Wetlands provided a refuge to students who resisted cultural genocide. Parents who came to visit or collect their children would camp at the south end of the wetlands on the banks of the Wakarusa River, where the children would sneak away to meet them at night.
There are children buried there. Whether they drowned there attempting to cross the unpredictable wetlands, or they were honored there and are buried in the Haskell Cemetery, this outdoor classroom is a crucial part of Haskell’s restoration of traditional ways of learning.