Suzan Shown Harjo: USDA's war against Native sacred places

"Amid the top-volume crossfire these days about whose religion and whose health could be threatened by federal actions, it’s noteworthy that debaters and bloviators alike don’t notice or don’t care about ongoing violations of Native American Peoples’ religious freedom and well being.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and its Forest Service continue to wage their long-standing culture war against Native American sacred places, causing great distress and despair to practitioners of traditional religions, who are required to conduct most ceremonies and observances at particular holy areas and to protect them. At the same time, the USDA and FS present a façade of fulfilling President Obama’s 2008 campaign promise to support “legal protections for sacred places and cultural traditions, including Native ancestors’ burial grounds and churches.”

The USDA and FS won their lawsuit on February 9 before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which tossed out a challenge to the FS’s permit for the Arizona Snowbowl to make snow from reclaimed sewage water on the San Francisco Peaks. Sacred to the Hopi, Navajo and other Native nations, the Peaks were declared “public domain” and national forest lands in the late 1800s, when Native Peoples were confined to reservations and faced life-threatening imprisonment and starvation penalties if caught dancing, meditating, praying or just being there."

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Suzan Shown Harjo: USDA’s Culture War Against Sacred Places (Indian Country Today 2/15)

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