Supporters open national prayer days to protect sacred places

The sacred San Francisco Peaks in Arizona. Photo by Tyler finvold / Wikipedia

Today marks the opening of the 2015 National Days of Prayer to Protect Native American Sacred Places.

Supporters are holding ceremonies, educational forums and other gatherings at more than 40 places from now until June 24. They will draw attention to the dangers facing some of the most important tribal sites across the U.S.

“Native and non-Native people gather at the solstice and other times for ceremonies and events to honor sacred places. Everyone can participate in the National Prayer Days as a reminder to honor these precious lands and waters all the time by simply respecting them and not allowing them to be harmed,” said activist Suzan Shown Harjo, the president of The Morning Star Institute in Washington, D.C.

Harjo's efforts to protect sacred places were one of the reasons she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year. Despite high-level awareness of the issue, she said Native people lack recourse to prevent developers and even the federal government from harming important sites.

"Native peoples are the only people or group in the U.S. who do not have a door to the courthouse to protect sacred places or site-specific ceremonies," said Harjo, who organized a prayer earlier this morning on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol. “That must change as a simple matter of fairness and equity. Without a broad statute, Native peoples have had to cobble together laws and regulations to protect sacred places on a piecemeal basis, and oftentimes courts find these solutions to be insufficient.”

Snoqualmie Falls in Washington is a place of healing and transformation for the Snoqualmie Tribe and other tribes in the Northwest. Photo by Meher Anand Kasam / Wikipedia

The Snoqualmie Tribe of Washington is among the many communities that will participate in the prayer days. A private ceremony will be held at Snoqualmie Falls later this evening.

“Snoqualmie Falls is a place revered as sacred for thousands of years,” said council member Lois Sweet Dorman. “Water is universally a sacred being, part of sacred ceremonies in faiths and religions across the world."

"As Snoqualmie, it is our sacred duty and responsibility to be the spiritual stewards of Snoqualmie Falls," Sweet Dorman said.

Prayer events are also being held to call attention to Oak Flat in Arizona, a sacred Apache site threatened by a mining project that was authorized by Congress over the objections of tribes.. The San Francisco Peaks, also in Arizona, is being desecrated by the use of reclaimed sewage for a privately-owned ski resort on federal land.

Join the Conversation