Right now a group of Haskell Indian Nations University students and supporters are trekking to Washington, D.C. to raise awareness about the Kansas Department of Transportation’s plans to build a freeway—the South Lawrence Trafficway (SLT)—through the Wakarusa Wetlands, which adjoin the university.
They left on May 13 on what they’ve dubbed the Trail of Broken Promises and are currently in Ohio. They plan on arriving in Washington, D.C. on July 9 and will call on Congress to enact a piece of draft legislation that made the journey with them—the Protection of Native American Sacred Places Act.
While the students and their supporters are doing their part, back at Haskell, in Lawrence, Kansas on June 20 the Haskell Wetland Preservation Organization and Save the Wakarusa Wetlands will hold a sunrise ceremony at the Haskell Medicine Wheel. Participants will erect a lodge pole at sunrise to mark the exact position of the Summer Solstice.
Back when Haskell was a boarding school, “Indian students took refuge in the Wakarusa Wetlands—where they could speak their languages, sing their sacred songs and conduct ceremonies and dances that were federally punishable with starvation and jail time—and refused to let school authorities ‘kill the Indian’ in them,” reads a press release.
The wetlands were also a place where Haskell students could get news about their family and friends back home. It was less censored because when someone arrived in the wetlands camp who spoke a related language, they could send a message. Otherwise, the children had to send messages from school which had to be written in English, screened by the Indian agent once it reached their reservation and possibly modified when read by the interpreter to their family.
“This place is soaked in Indian history, layered with the stories of Native elders and is the last resting place of some who came to Haskell in its darkest days. Spirit release ceremonies and clandestine burials took place in these wetlands,” the press release says. “Elders have said the Creator caused the course of the Wakarusa River to go directly east toward the rising sun, in sharp contrast to the other rivers in the region, as a sign of the abundant gifts to be found there.”
For more information about the sunrise ceremony contact Cleta Labrie, president of the Haskell Wetlands Preservation Organization (WPO), at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Dr. Daniel Wildcar, WPO adviser, at email@example.com, or Michael Caron, who is with Save the Wakarusa Wetlands, at 785-842-6293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other National Sacred Places Prayer Days events coming up:
Also coming up tomorrow morning will be a sunrise ceremony on the front lawn of the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), 1506 Broadway in Boulder, Colorado. The program and prayer service is scheduled to last about an hour and will be followed by a potluck breakfast.
“In the United States, Native Americans are more closely tied to the land than any other group, yet the increasing exploitation of natural resources and population expansion has caused previously undisturbed tribal sacred places to become vulnerable to destruction,” says a press release announcing the ceremony. “As part of its mission, the Native American Rights Fund has long advocated for sacred site protection, religious freedom efforts and cultural rights. Recently, NARF’s Board of Directors has asked us to expand our efforts to protect lands that are sacred and precious to Native Americans.”
NARF has asked anyone who wants to join to bring food or beverage to share at the potluck. If anyone has questions they can contact Rose Cuny at 303-447-8760.
The same day as the NARF observance, there will also be one in Washington, D.C. at 8:30 a.m. on the United States Capitol Grounds, West Front Grassy Area. The public is invited to attend this event, which will take the form of a talking circle.
“All are welcome to offer good words, songs or a moment of silence for all sacred places, beings and waters, especially for those that are being threatened, desecrated or damaged at this time,” reads a press release from The Morning Star Institute, the Native rights organization that has organized this observance.
The observance will be conducted by Mary Phillips, who is Omaha and Laguna Pueblo.
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