JUNE 17-21 SET FOR 2011 NATIONAL SACRED PLACES PRAYER DAYS           Washington, DC (6/15/11)—Observances and ceremonies will be held across the country from June 17 through June 21 to mark the 2011 National Days of Prayer to Protect Native American Sacred Places. The observance in Washington, D.C. will be held on Tuesday, June 21 at 7:30 a.m. on the United States Capitol Grounds, West Front Grassy Area. Descriptions of certain sacred places and threats they face, as well as times and places for public commemorations are listed in the full press release below, available for download as a PDF. Some of the gatherings highlighted in this release are educational forums, not religious ceremonies, and are open to the general public. Others are ceremonial and may be conducted in private. In addition to those listed below, there will be observances and prayers offered at other sacred places that are under threat and at those not endangered at this time.

“Native and non-Native people nationwide gather at this time for Solstice ceremonies and to honor sacred places,” said Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee). She is President of The Morning Star Institute, which organizes the National Sacred Places Prayer Days. “Ceremonies are being conducted as Native American peoples engage in legal struggles with federal agencies that side with developers that endanger or destroy Native sacred places,” said Ms. Harjo. “Once again, we call on Congress to build a door to the courts for Native nations to protect our traditional churches. Many sacred places are being damaged because Native nations do not have equal access under the First Amendment to defend them.”

All other peoples in the United States can use the First Amendment to protect their churches, but the Supreme Court closed that door to Native Americans in 1988. The Court, in the 23 years from 1988 to 2011, has declined to allow federal religious freedom statutes to be used to protect Native American sacred places or the exercise of Native American religious freedom at sacred places.

“Today, Native Americans are the only peoples in the United States who do not have a constitutional or statutory right of action to protect sacred places or our exercise of religious freedom there,” said Ms. Harjo. “That simply must change as a matter of fairness and equity. Native nations have been cobbling together protections based on defenses intended for other purposes. Some may permit a place at the table when development is being contemplated, but Native peoples are not taken seriously because the agencies and developers know that the Supreme Court does not appear inclined to hear lawsuits which lack a tailor-made right of action.”

Increasing numbers of Native American tribal and religious leaders have called for a right of action to defend Native sacred places in court. In President Barack Obama’s December 2010 meeting with 12 tribal leaders, the first statement -- by the representative of the largest Native nation, Navajo Nation -- was for protection of sacred places nationally and for the Administration to stop desecrating the San Francisco Peaks. The U.S. Forest Service is permitting a private ski business to contaminate the sacred mountains in northern Arizona with snow made from recycled sewage water, at the same time as it is “consulting” on Native views of sacred places.

The Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Justice Department and other federal agencies are actively endangering sacred places and fighting Native peoples who are trying to protect sacred places in judicial and administrative processes. The National Congress of American Indians also has called for Congress to enact a statute that would provide a cause of action and for the President to update and strengthen the existing Executive Order on Indian Sacred Sites.

During his presidential campaign in 2008, then-Senator Obama addressed this issue as part of his Native American policy platform for religious freedom, cultural rights and sacred places protection: “Native American sacred places and site-specific ceremonies are under threat from development, pollution, and vandalism. Barack Obama supports legal protections for sacred places and cultural traditions, including Native ancestors’ burial grounds and churches.”

Many tribal peoples endorsed and voted for Candidate Obama because of his positions on Native sacred places, languages and domestic violence, which were the three policy positions that distinguished him from other candidates. The President’s signing of the Tribal Law & Order Act was widely applauded. However, many have noted the lack of White House action on heritage languages and the growing disparity between what the Candidate supported and what the President’s Administration has done on sacred places.  

“The President has been asked directly to call on Congress to create a right of action so we can defend our holy places, to improve the Executive Order for Indian Sacred Sites and to stop the Forest Service and other agencies from continuing their decades-long assault against Native sacred places,” said Ms. Harjo. “I’m still optimistic that the President will do these things, but not everyone is as hopeful as I am. Nonetheless, we pray that this will be the last year we are denied justice by the Executive, Legislative and Judicial Branches.

“Native peoples are encouraged that the President endorsed the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and look forward to its application to U.S. law and practice.”

The Declaration includes the following statements regarding sacred places:

 “Article 11, 1: Indigenous peoples have the right to practise and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs. This includes the right to maintain, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures, such as archaeological and historical sites, artifacts, designs, ceremonies, technologies and visual and performing arts and literature.

 “Article 11, 2: States shall provide redress through effective mechanisms, which may include restitution, developed in conjunction with indigenous peoples, with respect to their cultural, intellectual, religious and spiritual property taken without their free, prior and informed consent or in violation of their laws, traditions and customs.”
 “Article 12, 1: Indigenous peoples have the right to manifest, practise, develop and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies; the right to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites; the right to the use and control of their ceremonial objects; and the right to the repatriation of their human remains.”

 “Article 25: Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard."

The 2011 observances are the ninth of the National Prayer Days to Protect Native American Sacred Places. The first National Prayer Day was conducted on June 20, 2003, on the U.S. Capitol Grounds and nationwide to emphasize the need for Congress to enact a cause of action to protect Native sacred places. That need still exists.

In addition to those listed separately below, prayers will be offered for the following sacred places, among others:
Antelope Hills. Apache Leap. Badger Two Medicine. Badlands. Bear Butte. Bear Medicine Lodge. Black Hills. Black Mesa. Boboquivari Mountain. Cape Wind. Cave Rock. Chief Cliff. Coastal Chumash sacred lands in the Gaviota Coast. Coldwater Springs. Colorado River. Columbia River. Eagle Rock.

Everglades. Fajada Butte. Gulf of Mexico. Haleakala Crater. Hickory Ground. Hualapai Nation landforms in Truxton and Crozier Canyons. Indian Pass. Kaho’olawe. Katuktu. Kituwah. Klamath River. Lake Superior. Mauna Kea. Medicine Bluff. Medicine Hole. Medicine Wheels. Mokuhinia. Moku’ula. Mount Shasta. Mount Taylor. Mount Tenabo. Nine Mile Canyon.

Ocmulgee Old Fields and National Monument. Palo Duro Canyon. Petroglyphs National Monument. Pipestone National Monument. Puget Sound. Puvungna. Rainbow Bridge. Rattlesnake Island. Rio Grande River. Sweetgrass Hills. Sutter Buttes. Tse Whit Zen Village. Tsi-litch Semiahmah Village. Valley of Chiefs. Walking Woman Place. Woodruff Butte. Wolf River. Yucca Mountain. Zuni Salt Lake. Sacred places of all removed Native Nations. All Waters and Wetlands.

Washington, DC: U.S. Capitol, West Front Grassy Area - June 21, Tuesday, at 7:30 a.m.

The observance in Washington, DC, will take place at the U.S. Capitol on the West Front Grassy Area on Tuesday, June 21, at 7:30 a.m. The public is invited to attend this respectful observance to honor sacred places, sacred beings and sacred waters, and all those who care for them and protect them from harm. The observance will take the form of a talking circle.

All are welcome to offer good words, songs or a moment of silence for all sacred places, beings and waters, especially for those that are being threatened, desecrated or damaged at this time.

This observance is organized by The Morning Star Institute, a national Native rights organization founded in 1984 and dedicated to Native Peoples’ cultural and traditional rights, including religious freedom and sacred places protection.

Contact: The Morning Star Institute at (202) 547-5531 / 611 Pennsylvania Ave., SE #377, Washington, DC 20003