Sen. Nighthorse calls for protection of sacred sites

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R,-Colo.) took time out from a busy Senate hearing schedule on trust reform to speak to the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) in the nation's capital on Feb. 26.

"None of you would dispute the horrendous history of tribal and individual Indian trust fund accounts," said Campbell. "But, it occurred to me this last week while watching the Olympics, that Indians have lost so much of their gold, you'd think a French skating judge was managing the trust funds."

He said that unfortunately he had no new information on Interior Secretary Gale Norton's proposed office of trust fund transition. Trial witnesses did provide valuable information on specific tribal concerns, Campbell said. He vowed to keep trust reform at the top of his list of legislative concerns.

The senior senator from Colorado made mention of his special concern over the desecration of sacred lands and sites in Indian country. Campbell said that in West Virginia, for example, strip mining demolished many sites that Indians in the state hold sacred, including graveyards. Coal, he said, was a necessary energy and employment source, but had a left a "tortured landscape" in the Appalachian Mountains. Controversy and outrage over the practice of strip mining led to the Surface Mining Act of 1977 which was supposed to place stringent controls on surface mining and reclamation, the senator said.

"Yet, in Indian country today, I witness time and time again situations where sacred sites and sacred lands are being violated by outsiders," he told the NCAI. "Valley of the Chiefs, Montana; one of the richest men in America thinks it's a nice place to drill for oil. A number of tribes, however, feel that sinking a drilling rig there is akin to sinking one in the Sistine Chapel." Campbell also mentioned the desecration of sensitive dream-trail sites in California and the callous treatment of American Indian concerns over gold mining in sacred areas of North Dakota.

Sen. Campbell, 68, is one of 44 chiefs of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe and is the only American Indian currently holding a U.S. Senate seat. According to his senatorial web site, he was an Olympic athlete in judo in the 1964 games, a Korean War veteran, renowned jewelry designer and trainer of championship quarter horses.

Campbell first entered public office in 1982 when he was elected to the Colorado State Legislature. He was elected to the Senate in 1992 and re-elected in 1998. Campbell currently serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Veterans' Affairs Committee, Indian Affairs Committee, Environmental and Public Works Committee and is also the chair of the Helsinki Commission.