The Mojave people believe the Topock Maze, a 600-year-old geoglyph, receives the souls of the departed, serving as the spiritual pathway to the afterlife. The sacred place is integral to the Mojave way of life, beliefs, traditions, culture and religion.
The Fort Mojave Indian Tribe hopes the power of prayer can protect the Topock Maze in Needles, California, and the surrounding sacred areas along the Lower Colorado River, from further pollution by toxic chemicals from a Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E)-owned gas compressor station and treatment plant within the Maze area and the roughly 150 wells in California and Arizona on either side of the Colorado River. Throughout National Sacred Places Prayer Days, June 16-24, observances and ceremonies will be held in honor of sacred sites across Indian Country. On Saturday, June 23 at 6 a.m., the Mojave will gather at the Topock Maze site to pray for the protection and preservation of the Maze.
The sacred site was first desecrated in the 1880s, when Southern Pacific Railroad laid tracks through the maze and destroyed a geoglyph of a human figure holding a snake that had its feet near the riverbank. The Maze is now just 15 acres in area, down from an original size of about 50 acres, and surrounded by interstate highways and a gas pipeline built by PG&E.
Over the last 50 years, PG&E’s Topock Natural Gas Compressor Station has polluted the groundwater under and around the Maze with hexavalent chromium, a toxic chemical that can cause numerous human and ecological health problems. This adversely affects the environment and the Mojave people, their sacred landscape and their religious beliefs.
In 2005, Ft. Mojave filed a state lawsuit seeking the removal of the plant, total restoration of the sacred area, an environmental baseline of prior to the plant’s construction and any other actions that could help remedy the situation. Settlement negotiations concluded in November 2006 aimed to achieve each of these goals and secure other remedies including repatriation of portions of the sacred area to tribal ownership, sensitivity training for PG&E employees and contractors, a written public apology and reimbursement of past and future Tribal costs.
In 2011, during selection of the Final Groundwater Remedy, DTSC made a finding that the Topock Cultural Area is an historic resource under state law and the BLM determined that a Traditional Cultural Property (TCP) or property of traditional religious and cultural significance within a 1,600 acre Area of Potential Effect is eligible for listing on the National Register under Criterion A, as part of what tribes have identified as a larger area of traditional and cultural importance.
Yet, DTSC and BLM failed to consult with the Tribe on the final mitigation measures, assuming they knew what was best for all the Tribal Governments along the Lower Colorado River and how the sacred area could be best protected. DTSC’s failure to complete a legally adequate environment document, and failure to live up to certain terms in its settlement agreement with the Tribe, is the subject of a second lawsuit brought by the Tribe under state environmental laws. In its approval of the Final Groundwater Remedy, BLM has continued to put off dealing with mitigation for the continued impacts of up to 170 new wells and related infrastructure into the Tribe’s sacred area, putting the sustainability of the Tribe’s cultural and spiritual practices of the Tribe at further risk for decades to come.
Prayer is needed:
1) for DTSC and PG&E to swiftly bring to conclusion their settlements with the Tribe, and recognize the sovereignty of the tribal government and the agency’s public policy goals of truly inclusive and transparent decision making,
2) for BLM and DOI to follow through on promises to require meaningful mitigation for tribal cultural concerns during groundwater and soils remedy design and to improve its management of the area,
3) for additional sacred land in this area to be repatriated to the Tribe and
4) to ask for forgiveness for any continuing desecration that may occur until the offending facilities, including the interim measure treatment plant, are finally removed and until other required restoration of the landscape occurs.
This issue is national in scope: the Maze has been officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1978 and is formally recognized as nationally significant. Moreover, the failure of state and federal agencies to fully consider direct, indirect and cumulative impacts to Native Sacred Places during pollution remediation activities remains a national problem requiring Congressional Oversight. The Mojave implore: Pray this oversight occurs at the highest levels.