Designation of Sacred Land is Open to Interpretation - Even Among Tribal Leaders

August 18, 2007


Source: Yuma Sun

If the loss of oral traditions, such as prayers and ceremonies, has wounded the collective heart of American Indians, then losing the sacred land that came to define tribes could mean the end of an entire way of life.

Generations of people have come and gone and various cultures have appeared and transformed, yet the much-storied mountains and deserts of native legends remain. Tribal elders and politicians warn that while outside threats to their natural resources are nothing new, the increased pressure from development and recreation has heightened the issue from a battle to an all-out war.

"There is just a general feeling that there is always a threat and you get tired of waging the battle," said Councilman Emilio Escalanti of the Quechan Indian Tribe. "It's frustrating and discouraging. You have the feeling that this encroachment is never-ending. People have lived and worshipped here for centuries. We just want to protect what remains."

American Indian leaders explain that tribes respect all land, but there are certain historic and religious sites that tribes deem holy or sacred. Problems arise, however, when these mountains, lakes or patches of desert are eyed by developers who want to mine, build highways or construct housing projects.

But knowing exactly what to protect isn't easy. The matter of defining which lands are sacred is subjective and open to interpretation - even among tribal leaders.