With the climate change movement and environmental sustainability awareness, sacred places come to light and many become the center of discussion.
I would like to focus on Chaco Canyon, which is found near Bloomfield, N.M., in the northwest part of the state. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated it in 1987 as a World Heritage Site, joining a list of protected areas "whose outstanding natural and cultural resources form the common inheritance of all mankind."
One of the issues that come to light regarding Chaco Canyon, and certainly other sacred places, is that they have also become tourist attractions. The challenge here becomes what separates sacred places from tourist attractions? Although there are numerous definitions for sacred places, the one that resonates for Indigenous ancestral lands is the Indigenous knowledge connection and spiritual culture that accompanies it. This cultural knowledge is not commercial and is not commonly found in books if at all. Like all sacred sites, they are an important part of their people's history and cultural legacy.
There have been numerous anthropological and archaeological studies done at Chaco Canyon, and the common thread that comes to surface is that Westerns minds of thought cannot agree upon its purpose and who and what it served. I believe the Indigenous people-who have a good understanding along with their ancestral cultural knowledge-are reluctant to share this sacred knowledge due to past and current cultural appropriations and exploitations.
The challenge then becomes how does one protect such sites from gas and oil development when the goal of both the developers and the tourism industry is to capitalize on rich, culturally pristine sites. Although UNESCO and other acts or laws have been established to protect and thus make it illegal to excavate, remove, damage, alter or deface any archaeological resources, it sure seems like it does not stop gas and oil development.
Such was the case of the Missouri River in North Dakota where the Dakota Access Pipeline was built. Indigenous people understand that the pipeline will contribute to man-made climate change by building up the country's oil infrastructure. Indigenous peoples know that fossil fuels, including the vast reserves in the Bakken Formation need to be kept in the ground to protect the world from the worst effects of climate change. The words "sacred sites" carry no real meaning in this context, and the sacredness of what is and what will occur has not been considered.
Environmental knowledge specific to each sacred place is just as critical in our modern era as it was in the past. Understanding the organic material that makes up a sacred site in relationship to current organic material needs discernment as to how many years or decades it takes for these materials to break down and/or be preserved in this climate or whenever a sacred site is altered. Sacred sites such as Chaco Canyon and numerous other sites are the living material of what makes people Indigenous to place.
The greatest challenge then becomes how do you get Western thinkers to grasp the meaning of "sacred" from an Indigenous world view? Will their understanding help protect sacred sites, or will it become another topic headed for microscopic scrutiny?
Chief Arvol Looking Horse said to Indian Country Today: "My words seek to unite the global community through a message from our sacred ceremonies to unite spiritually, each in our own ways of beliefs in the Creator.
"We have been warned from ancient prophecies of these times we live in today but have also been given a very important message about a solution to turn these terrible times.
"To understand the depth of this message you must recognize the importance of Sacred Sites and realize the interconnectedness of what is happening today, in reflection of the continued massacres that are occurring on other lands and our own Americas."
My closing words to you are, go out and be one with the land and water. Feel what it has to offer, immerse yourself in its presence, live in the moment while you can and don't speak about what should have happened but what should happen.