Alaska is home to 229 federally recognized Alaskan villages and five unrecognized Tlingit Alaskan Indian tribes. On Tuesday, June 21 the Alaska office of the Native American Rights Fund will participate in the National Days of Prayer to Protect Native Sacred Places.
The Sealaska Lands Bill, introduced in Congress early this year by Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, points to about 200 sacred sites on a map that shows blue dots representing the sites across the islands and inlets of southeast Alaska.
"These are historic cultural sites that were used since time immemorial by Alaska Native people for a variety of uses," Sealaska CEO Chris McNeil told KCAW in January.
For example, Dot Number 119 is a 10-acre village site with petroglyphs on the east shore of Kalinin Bay, on Kruzof Island near Sitka and Dot Number 198 is a two-acre seasonal village site on the northeast shore of Port Banks, south of Whale Bay on Baranof Island.
Other areas of concern for Alaska Natives include Tongass National Forest, Glacier Bay and fisheries in southeast Alaska.
The bill introduced by Murkowski would set aside 151,000 acres of the Tongass for conservation, and other bills aim to return 85,000 of the 23 million acres taken by the U.S. in 1907.
Glacier Bay is an ancient homeland to Tlingit clans. According to an Alaska History & Cultural Studies website Glacier Bay became a National Monument in 1925 and a National Park in 1980, which has “has created some tension with Alaska Natives who continue to view Glacier Bay as an area of traditional land and subsistence use.”
“I can remember our elders telling us about U.S. National Park Service personnel burning our cabins at Glacier Bay to try to force us to leave,” wrote Rosita Worl for Indian Country Today Media Network. “One of the ancient practices among our people is to gather seagull eggs, a traditional delicacy, at Glacier Bay. But now we are not allowed to do even that.”
Worl mentions that state licensing has also restricted subsistence fishing for Alaska Natives, a practice that historically provided wealth to their families.
“Our subsistence fishing, which should be protected, amounts to only 2 percent of the fishery. Yet we are 16 percent of the population,” Worl wrote. “If our fishermen were allowed even 16 percent of our aboriginal fishery, we could feed whole villages.”
National Prayer Days gives Native Americans a chance to describe sacred places and threats they face.
“Native and non-Native people nationwide gather at this time for Solstice ceremonies and to honor sacred places,” said Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee), president of The Morning Star Institute, which organizes the prayer day events. “Ceremonies are being conducted as Native American peoples engage in legal struggles with federal agencies that side with developers that endanger or destroy Native sacred places. Once again, we call on Congress to build a door to the courts for Native nations to protect our traditional churches. Many sacred places are being damaged because Native nations do not have equal access under the First Amendment to defend them.”
The National Days of Prayer observance, scheduled for noon on June 21, will be an educational forum and is open to the general public. Contact Natalie Landreth, NARF staff attorney, at (907) 276-0680 or Landreth@NARF.org for location details.