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LeBeau: Protecting American Indian sacred places in California

Across Indian country and America, many American Indians and their supporters are employing strategies to protect American Indian sacred places. These include convening the "National Day Of Prayer to Protect Native American Sacred Places," educating citizens and government officials, assisting in crafting related legislation, providing testimony to associated governmental oversight committees, calling for hearings, securing tribal, state and federal government leader support on related initiatives and initiating demonstrations regarding protecting sacred places.

Prior to the sunrise of June 20, many American Indians and non-Indians from across California gathered at the steps of the State Capitol to call upon and embrace the special powers that exist between darkness and light to gather strength and assist in protecting American Indian sacred places. After this came the opportunity to greet the sun with prayers, songs, talks, and moments of silence dedicated to the health and well-being of everything on and in the earth. Simultaneously across America, related sunrise ceremonies occurred in Washington, D.C., Albuquerque, N.M., Boulder, Colo., Green Bay, Wis., Lawrence, Kansas, and other cities, as well as tribal territories. During this time people exercised the power of spiritual collectivity to safeguard our sacred world.

At California's capitol, once Willard Rhoades, Clarence Atwell, Phil D. Hunter, and Razzle Dazzle had completed the sunrise ceremony, a round of cultural sharing by many of the gatherings participants occurred. An old time Indian story was shared about the trickster coyote. The story dealt with what happens to coyote when he disrespectfully attempts to jump across the sacred river, at the wrong place, and snatch the beautiful singing energy maiden. Of course coyote falls from the earth, though scratching her as he tumbles, and is washed away by the power of the river. Energy maiden is unharmed and balance is restored to the world. Interestingly, these scratch marks on the earth can still be viewed along a bank of the Pit River, if you know where to look.

Willard Rhoades, Pit River Indian elder, spoke about the visions he received during his childhood. The visions occurred prior to the advent of modern day appliances and electronic systems. They provided insight into what we all would be experiencing or affected by. These include, spending a great deal of time staring at tiny boxes plugged into our walls, communicating using spider webs attached to each others houses and offices, witnessing or hearing about the explosions of mushroom shaped bombs and the building of bubbles on grandmother moon that people attempt to live in. Incidentally, Rhoades also said that these bubbles pop and signify the end of this world. Perhaps we (e.g. citizens and decision-makers of all states and nations) should heed the wisdom of Indian elders and "stay home" and learn or strengthen our ability to take care of each other and the earth.

After completing the cultural sharing portion of the agenda, the next item included speeches and words of wisdom by key tribal and state leaders on the need to protect Indian sacred places. A designee from the office of Governor Gray Davis spoke on the topic of the Traditional Tribal Cultural Site Bill developed for California in conjunction with Indian nations. Phil D. Hunter, Linda Navarro, Faith Gemmill, Louise Davis, Willard Rhoades, Tony Yiamkis, Jim Brown, Connie Reitman, Ira Hoaglen, Radley Davis and many others spoke on behalf of either their Indian nations, organizations or themselves on safeguarding Indian sacred places. According to the information provided at this gathering, some of the endangered sacred places identified in California are: the Medicine Lake Highlands, Indian Pass, Coastal Chumash lands, Yurok Nation's sacred waterways, Berry Creek, Puvungna of the Tongva and Katuktu.

The event concluded as it had begun, in a culturally appropriate manner. At 11:15 a.m. traditional songs of the Pomo Indian people were sung, as their dance group closed the Gathering in a good way. Special appreciation is extended to the Seventh Generation Fund and the California Rural Indian Health Board for their willingness to provide the funding for the food, beverages, and the "Protect American Indian Sacred Places" banner for the Gathering. In addition, heartfelt appreciation goes to all of the people who assisted in making this event possible. Without their assistance and willingness to work together this gathering would have been extremely difficult to organize. Overall, the gathering was very successful, reinvigorating, and powerful on social, political and cultural levels.

Mark LeBeau, Pit River Tribal Member, AITEN Programs Manager and CRIHB employee, has been working with tribal governments in California since 1999 to develop effective and culturally appropriate tobacco policies on tribal lands. During 2002, LeBeau worked for Congressman Frank Pallone Jr. in Washington, D.C., on American Indian and Alaska Native legislative initiatives to benefit Indian country. He has recently been named as the Vice-Chair of the Native Coalition for Medicine Lake Highlands Defense. LeBeau can be reached by e-mail at mark.lebeau@mail.ihs.gov