The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Report: Sacred Sites Need More Protection

by Catherine Komp

Nov. 30, 2006 – A group of environmental filmmakers is urging governments and corporations to do more to protect sacred indigenous sites.

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The Sacred Land Film Project this week released an 82-page report detailing how federal laws are too weak to effectively protect ancient sites from economic development. The report showcases various strategies used by indigenous activists to keep corporations from destroying their sacred places.

Only a handful of federal laws – the 1978 American Indian Religious Freedom Act, the 1979 Archaeological Resources Protection Act and the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, for instance – acknowledge religious and historical significance of native sites or offer some protection of historic artifacts.

But the report notes that these acts are "far from adequate" and do not specifically ban excavation or development on sacred sites.

Given the absence of clear legal protections, the report documents how native activists have used a variety of tactics to defend sacred landscapes. The report highlights several cases in which native activists halted development when companies and government did not take it upon themselves to respect Indian land. In one case beginning in the mid-1990s in south-central Montana, a coalition of tribes and environmental groups successfully fought off Anschutz Exploration Corporation’s attempts to drill for oil in a 1,000-year-old site containing historic cliff paintings.

In another case, the Zunis near Salt Lake in New Mexico spent two decades fighting an effort by a state utility to mine in a sacred burial ground surrounding the lake. After legal challenges, media campaigns and lobbying, the Salt River Project announced it was dropping its mining plans in 2003.

The report also details ongoing fights to protect sacred sites, including battles between tribes, the US Forest Service and rock climbers over the use of popular geologic attractions like Devils Tower in Wyoming and Cave Rock in Nevada.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Catherine Komp is a contributing journalist.

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