Norton reopens sacred site controversy
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Amid Congressional attempts to protect Indian Country's significant places, the Bush administration on Friday gave new life to plans for a controversial gold mine located near a California tribe's most sacred site.

Based on a determination by agency experts, the Department of Interior upheld the mining claims of Glamis Gold, an international company that prides itself on low-cost developments. Although final approval is not guaranteed, the move clears the way for a massive open pit operation in an area known as Indian Pass.

To the Quechan Nation, the proposal is disastrous. The tribe considers Indian Pass the life-blood of its culture, a place where ancestors are cremated and religious pilgrimages occur.

"Our sacred sites are more precious than gold," said council member Phil Emerson. "Tribal sacred settings in many cases are centuries old and at the heart of tribal cultures and traditions."

Emerson organized a 700-mile run to attract attention to the cause. A group of 40 tribal members, some as young as eight years old, ran from the state capitol to their reservation, where they arrived on Saturday, to support of legislation pending in the U.S. Congress and in California.

But those efforts can be overwritten by Secretary Gale Norton, who last year rescinded a legal opinion that stopped the mine in its tracks. Based on that opinion, her Clinton administration predecessor, Bruce Babbitt, had denied Glamis a permit.

The department will now review the environmental analysis for the 1,571-acre open pit project. A decision to approve of seek additional studies is expected in three months.

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) hopes to head off action. An amendment prohibiting federal funds for the project cleared the Senate last week.

"The destruction of this sacred area would violate the Interior Department's obligations to protect the interests of federally recognized Native American tribes, with tragic consequences," Boxer said on Friday.

According to Quechan Nation President Mike Jackson, the decision to reverse course on the mine came from Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles, a former lobbyist for the mining industry. The tribe tried repeatedly to meet with Bush officials to express its views but have been unsuccessful.

Interior officials, in recent testimony to Congress, were unable to provide specifics about the lack of consultation.

Boxer's provision on the mine was not included in the House version, which was passed in July. A joint House-Senate conference committee would have to resolve the difference.

Also pending in California is a proposal to give tribes a greater voice in developments. Governor Gray Davis (D) has yet to write the bill into law.

Representative Nick Rahall (D-West Virginia) has introduced legislation to protect sites like Indian Pass. Jackson testified in support of the bill last week.

"The bulldozer or backhoe ripping into the earth, rips into our hearts," he told the House Resources Committee. "Our inability to stop this destruction makes us feel as though we are failing our ancestors and our children. If you destroy the land, you destroy what we believe in, who we are. This too must stop."

Relevant Documents:
Boxer Statement | Bureauof Land Mangement Documents on Imperical County Project

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