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Sacred Sites Listening Sessions Scheduled

The U.S. Department of the Interior has scheduled a series of listening sessions for the month of August with federally recognized tribes to discuss the protection of Native American sacred sites.

The U.S. Department of Interior will hold a series of listening sessions this month with federally recognized tribes around the country to collect input about better protecting and facilitating tribal access to sacred sites.

“It is critical that we listen to tribal people about sensitive and significant cultural issues concerning sacred sites,” said Acting Assistant Secretary Donald Laverdure in a press release. “Our nation-to-nation relationship is one that is based upon mutual respect, and that includes an ongoing dialogue about places central to Indian identity and cultural ways of life.”

Leaders of tribal governments as well as spiritual leaders are invited to attend, and department officials are also open to input about specific sacred sites, according to the press release.

The department will also respect tribal requests that information about locations or the nature of particular sacred sites be kept confidential and will only share this information with appropriate agency personnel.

In addition to developing potential new sacred sites policies and practices, the department also wants input on whether it should attempt to define sacred sites and what tribal representatives should be consulted on when determining if a site is considered sacred.

Some tribal leaders from federally unrecognized tribes hope they are allowed to participate as they also have sacred sites, often located on federal land, that they work to protect.

“When it comes to the protection of sacred sites, they shouldn’t discriminate based on a government-to-government system that only recognizes tribes and nations it finds fit to marginalize,” said Daniel Castro Romero, General Council Chairman of the Lipan Apache Band of Texas. “I ask federally recognized tribes to think back to when sacred meant respect regardless of nation or tribal affiliation.”

The issue of federally unrecognized tribes’ access to sacred sites gained national attention this summer when the Winnemem Wintu Tribe of Northern California campaigned for the U.S. Forest Service to close the McCloud River to recreational boaters for their four-day Coming of Age ceremony, which was held at several sacred sites that have been turned into a campground. Previous ceremonies had been disrupted by drunken boaters who harassed the tribe, and the Winnemem sought the closure to ensure privacy for the ceremony and their young women.

Those unable to attend any of these listening sessions, can send their input by September 21, 2012, via email to or the U.S. Department of the Interior, attn.: Mr. Dion Killsback, Counselor to the Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs, 1849 C Street, NW, MS 4141-MIB, Washington, D.C. 20240. Should you have additional questions, Mr. Killsback can be reached at (202) 208-6939.

The listening sessions are scheduled as follows:

August 13, 2012

Sacred Sites Session, 1 – 4 p.m.

BIA Southwest Regional Office Pete V. Domenici Building

1001 Indian School Road

Albuquerque, NM 87104

(505) 563-3103

August 16, 2012

Sacred Sites Session, 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.

Holiday Inn-Grand Montana Billings

5500 Midland Road

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Billings, MT 59101

(406) 248-7701

August 23, 2012

Sacred Sites Session, 1 – 4 p.m.

Mystic Lake Casino Hotel

2400 Mystic Lake Boulevard

Prior Lake, MN 55372

(952) 445-9000

August 24, 2012

Sacred Sites Session, 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.

Mohegan Sun Casino

1 Mohegan Sun Boulevard

Uncasville, CT 06382

(860) 862-7311

August 28, 2012

Sacred Sites Session, 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.

Bureau of Indian Affairs 911 Federal Building – Auditorium

911 NE 11th Avenue

Portland, OR 97232