This Mother’s Day a group of Haskell Indian Nations University students and advocates will embark on the Trail of Broken Promises, a journey across the eastern United States to save the Wakarusa Wetlands. The approximately 1,100 to 1,300 mile journey will take the group through seven states.
The Kansas Department of Transportation plans to build a freeway—the South Lawrence Trafficway (SLT) —through the wetlands, which adjoin Haskell. The students and a number of environmental groups oppose the construction of the freeway.
To raise awareness and national support for their fight to save the wetlands, students will embark on the trail, which will be a primarily on-foot trek through 50 towns beginning in Lawrence, Kansas and will eventually end in Washington, D.C.
Along their journey they will address how difficult it is to preserve sacred places in Indian country and carry a piece of draft legislation—the Protection of Native American Sacred Places Act—which would amend the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978. The draft bill, which according to a press release has been approved by the National Congress of the American Indians, would “provide a right of action for protection of Native American sacred places” like the Wakarusa Wetlands.
“We believe that Congress needs to address specific legislation to protect sacred places in an inclusive manner for all people whom those places affect,” said Millicent Pepion, a Haskell student, in a speech she gave to United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples James Anaya, during a consultation held May 3 at the University of Tulsa. “To make this point known we will carry the Protection of Native American Sacred Places Act. By walking the Trail of Broken Promises we call attention to the spiritual interconnectedness that we as human beings have with our environment and all elements within it.”
The students plan on arriving in Washington, D.C. on July 9 and will call on Congress to enact the draft bill that made the journey with them.
“Fighting to save the Wakarusa Wetlands extends beyond our campus,” said Pepion, a citizen of the Blackfeet and Navajo nations and a chief coordinator of the Trail of Broken Promises. “Our journey recognizes all Native Americans and all sacred places left vulnerable to developers’ agendas.”