The first in a series of hearings regarding sacred sites between the U.S. Interior Department and tribal leaders was held Monday in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The Associated Press reported about a dozen tribal leaders showed up to air their concerns, many surrounding the fast-tracking of renewable energy projects without adequate review of the effects on sacred sites.
"These projects, they're going on with complete disregard to Indians. It's like we don't have any say," said John Bathke, the Quechan Tribe of the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation’s historic preservation officer. The Quechan Tribe is currently fighting against the Ocotillo Express Wind Facility, a massive project of 112 turbines, each standing 450 feet tall, on more than 10,150 acres of public land in the Ocotillo Desert south of San Diego.
The Interior department wanted to know if it should define the term “sacred site.” But, according to Santa Ana Pueblo Gov. Ernest Lujan, that would be an impossible feat.
"We're not only looking at a hillside or rock feature," he said. "We're looking at water, we're looking at land, we're looking at plants."
It would also be difficult because of the secrecy of many Native religious and cultural practices, said Dion Killsback, the Northern Cheyenne counselor to the assistant secretary of Indian Affairs.
Killsback wants to find a way to “bridge the gap,” according to the AP. This way tribal leaders are involved from the beginning of the projects so tribal beliefs can be respected and the projects can move forward.
Four more listening sessions are scheduled.