Protecting Sacred Lands

Peter Matthiessen‘s book Indian Country has been on my shelf for awhile. I have read his fiction and nonfiction, including In The Spirit of Crazy Horse, his account of the American Indian Movement take over of Wounded Knee, site of the infamous massacre in the late 1800s, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

This book, published in 1984, chronicles contemporary systematic take over of Indian lands across the United States as private companies looked to profitable mining and recreation uses. Matthiessen describes his travels to these often remote locations where Native Americans have maintained their traditional lives and language (many did not speak English) declining the creep of so-called civilization that seemed only to destroy. They inhabit the land in ways that owners do not, connected to an inner geography of sacred spaces passed down from the beginning of time.

Matthiessen is not acting as an impartial journalist. He clearly supports what are described as “traditionals,” groups who are often at odds with the elected tribal councils set up under the auspices of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Traditionals believe these official councils are really just the puppets of  government and private companies, giving them the go ahead to open Indian lands under their control for their own financial gain, with little thought to the impact on the lives of those who will be displaced. He was attacked in this editorial in The Washington Post for refusing to recognize the legitimate voices of the councils.

I started some follow up research on the various stories and discovered an excellent resource related to the encroachment on sacred lands from The Sacred Land Film Project: Their map of threatened lands is a good starting point for exploration.

In the noisiness of our world, these stories can get buried, maybe a blurb on the news after reviewing the recent tweets and insults. Right now, protesters are trying to save a sacred mountain in Hawaii.

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