Chat with us, powered by LiveChat Prothero begins and ends his chapter on Navajo religion with discussions of Navajo religion and the law. The Moodle articles by Dallas (‘How Religious Freedom Law Fails Native Americans’) | EssayAbode

Prothero begins and ends his chapter on Navajo religion with discussions of Navajo religion and the law. The Moodle articles by Dallas (‘How Religious Freedom Law Fails Native Americans’)


Prothero begins and ends his chapter on Navajo religion with discussions of Navajo religion and the law. The Moodle articles by Dallas ("How Religious Freedom Law Fails Native Americans") and Kapoor, ("Lithium Mining . . .") provide further examples and discussion. Please sum up: what is the nature of the conflict here? How do the examples from the readings illustrate the problem? What are the various ways laws and courts have tried to address the issues? How does this conflict drive us back to very basic questions of the definition and characteristics of religion?

Cholla Canyon Ranch caretaker Ivan Bender points out the boundaries of the Hualapai Tribe's property from one of the initial exploratory drilling sites surrounding the ranch. (Roberto (Bear) Guerra/High Country News)

Published on National Catholic Reporter ( Jul 12, 2021

Lithium mining in western U.S. comes at a cost to Indigenous religions Enter your email address to receive free newsletters from EarthBeat.

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by Maya L. Kapoor by High Country News

Editor's note: This story originally appeared in High Country News [2] and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

One autumn evening four years ago, Ivan Bender, a Hualapai man in his mid-50s, took a walk with his fluffy brown-and- white Pomeranian, Sierra Mae, to check on the ranchland he tends. Nestled in western Arizona's Big Sandy River Valley, the ranch protects Ha' Kamwe' — hot springs that are sacred to the Hualapai and known today in English as Cofer Hot Springs. As the shadows lengthened, Bender saw something surprising — men working on a nearby hillside.

"I asked them what they were doing," Bender recalled. "They told me they were drilling." As it turns out, along with sacred places including the hot springs, ceremony sites and ancestral burials, the valley also holds an enormous lithium deposit. Now, exploratory work by Australian company Hawkstone Mining threatens those places, and with them, the religious practices of the Hualapai and other Indigenous nations. But this threat is nothing new: Centuries of land expropriation, combined with federal court rulings denying protection to sacred sites, have long devastated Indigenous religious freedom.

Cholla Canyon Ranch, where Bender is the caretaker, includes approximately 360 acres about halfway between Phoenix and Las Vegas, flanked to the west by the lush riparian corridor of Big Sandy River. The valley is part of an ancient salt route connecting tribes from as far north as central Utah to communities in Baja California and along the Pacific Coast, documented in the songs and oral traditions of many Indigenous nations.

"There are stories about that land and what it represents to the Hualapai Tribe," Bender said. "To me, it holds a really, really sacred valley of life in general." According to tribal councilmember Richard Powskey, who directs the Hualapai Natural Resources Department,

the Hualapai harvest native plant materials along the river corridor for everything from cradle boards to drums.

The mining company (USA Lithium Ltd., which has since been acquired by Hawkstone Mining Ltd.) hadn't told the Hualapai Tribe it was searching for lithium on nearby Bureau of Land Management lands. That evening, Bender was shocked to see the destruction taking place. The company eventually bulldozed a network of roads, drilling nearly 50 test wells more than 300 feet deep in the sacred landscape.

This summer, Hawkstone plans to triple its exploratory drilling, almost encircling Canyon Ranch and the springs it protects. In the next few years, Hawkstone hopes to break ground on an open-pit mine and dig an underground slurry to pipe the ore about 50 miles to a plant in Kingman, Arizona, where it will use sulfuric acid to extract the lithium. Lithium, which is listed as a critical mineral, is crucial for reaching the Biden administration's goal of replacing gas-guzzling vehicles with electric vehicles, [5]and Big Sandy Valley is relatively close to the Tesla factory in Nevada. Altogether, Hawkstone has mining rights on more than 5,000 acres of public land in Arizona for this project. Yet tribes whose sacred sites are at risk have almost no say in its decisions.

Public lands from Bears Ears to Oak Flat contain countless areas of cultural and religious importance. But when tribes have gone to court to protect these sites — and their own religious freedom — they've consistently lost. Courts have narrowly interpreted what counts as a religious burden for tribes, largely to preserve the federal government's ability to use public lands as it sees fit.

The roots of this policy are centuries deep. In the landmark 1823 case Johnson v. M'Intosh [6], the Supreme Court ruled that Indigenous people could not sell land to private owners in the United States, because they did not own it. Instead, Christian colonizers were the rightful owners, based on the Spanish colonial "Doctrine of Discovery," a racist and anti- Indigenous policy holding that non-Christian, non-European societies were inferior, and that Christian European nations had a superior right to all land.

A Bureau of Land Management map shows the completed (black dots) and proposed (light yellow dots) drilling sites surrounding the eastern side of the Cholla Canyon Ranch property. (Bureau of Land Management)

"Part of what justified the claiming of the land was that (colonizers) would teach the Indigenous people Christianity," Michalyn Steele, an Indian law expert at Brigham Young University and member of the Seneca Nation of Indians, said. "If they rejected Christianity, then they essentially forfeited their rights to the land and resources."

By the late 1800s, the United States had banned Indigenous religious practices, forcing tribes to socially and politically assimilate, and to adopt Christianity through agricultural, lifestyle and religious practices.

More recently, courts have continued to weaken protections for Indigenous religious freedom on public lands. In the precedent-setting 1988 case Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association, the Supreme Court ruled that the Forest Service could widen a logging road in Northern California's Six Rivers National Forest, even though it would destroy a region that was essential to the religious beliefs of tribes including the Yurok, Karuk and Tolowa. The Supreme Court reasoned that although the location might be utterly wrecked, that destruction did not violate the Constitution, because it would not force tribal members to violate their religious beliefs or punish them for practicing their religions.

"Even assuming that the Government's actions here will virtually destroy the Indians' ability to practice their religion, the Constitution simply does not provide a principle that could justify upholding respondents' legal claims," Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote in the majority opinion.

The court ruled, in part, to avoid granting tribes broad control over their ancestral lands through the exercise of their religious freedom. "Whatever rights the Indians may have to the use of the area … those rights do not divest the Government of its rights to use what is, after all, its land," the ruling said.

Though Congress partially protected that sacred region by adding it to the Siskiyou Wilderness Area [8], the Lyng ruling still reverberates across Indian Country today, creating what Stephanie Barclay, the director of the University of Notre Dame's Religious Liberty Institute and a former litigator at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, calls a "double standard" in how Indigenous sacred sites are treated.

Ivan Bender is the caretaker of the Hualapai Tribe's Cholla Canyon Ranch, and was the first to discover exploratory drilling around the perimeter of the tribe's property. (Roberto (Bear) Guerra/High Country News)

Barclay compared the situation of tribes such as the Hualapai, which rely on the federal government to access sacred sites, to that of Jewish prisoners who adhere to a kosher diet, or Sikh members of the military whose faith forbids them to cut their hair. In all of these cases, religious freedoms are controlled by the government. But, Barclay said, tribal members don't get the same religious protections.

"If the government is unwilling to accommodate an access for different Native peoples so that they can practice their religion in those sacred sites, then it won't happen," she said. But the Supreme Court has narrowly interpreted religious protection of Indigenous sacred sites on public lands, to the point of allowing wholesale destruction.

In a recent Harvard Law Review article [9], Steele and Barclay urge the federal government to protect Indigenous religious practices as one of its trust responsibilities, and to be very cautious about allowing destruction of sacred sites on public lands.

As things stand, state and federal agencies may permit irreversible damage with little input from affected Indigenous communities. Indeed, communication between the BLM and Hualapai Tribe

about Hawkstone's Big Sandy River Valley lithium impacts has been almost nonexistent. Although the BLM invited the Hualapai Tribe to consult with the agency in June 2020 about Hawkstone's exploration plans, the agency later rebuffed the tribe's request to be a coordinating agency on the project. It also rejected the suggestion that a tribal elder walk through the area and educate the agency about the cultural resources and history that mining might imperil.

The BLM said that it found only four cultural resource sites in the proposed drilling area. Of those, it said it would attempt to avoid one, which was eligible for protection under the National Historic Preservation Act. Meanwhile, in its publicly available environmental assessment [10], the agency stated that effects to Native American religious concerns or traditional values were "to be determined," and that it was consulting with the Hualapai Tribe, among others. As of this writing, BLM staff had neither agreed to an interview nor responded to written questions from High Country News.

For its part, in March Hawkstone said [11] that "All [I]ndigenous title is cleared and there are no other known historical or environmentally sensitive areas." Hawkstone's report

A lithium mine near Silver Peak, Nevada, is seen in this satellite image from June 2013, when it covered 68 square miles of land. (NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

ignores the fact that even when tribes lack legal title to their traditional lands, those spaces still hold religious and cultural importance.

When asked for comment, Doug Pitts, a U.S. advisor at Hawkstone Mining, emailed High Country News that, given the early stage of the project, "we do not feel a discussion on the project is worthwhile at this time."

Even without a clear legal path forward, the Hualapai Tribe has not given up on protecting its religious practices from lithium exploration. Nor is it alone: In April, the Inter Tribal Association of Arizona, representing 21 nations including the Hualapai, passed a resolution objecting to the lithium mining, calling the BLM's environmental analysis "grossly insufficient." Recently, the BLM agreed to extend the comment period until June 10 [13]. But Councilmember Powskey pointed out that during the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline [14]— which in part concerned the destruction of burials — the authorities' response was violent, and tribal nations, for a long while, were the only ones who seemed to care. And in the end, the pipeline was built.

Big Sandy is not the first battle the Hualapai have fought to protect sacred landscapes in this remote corner of Arizona, where wind turbines, gold mines and other private interests already have destroyed culturally important places — and it won't be the last. "You know, there's more to come," Powskey said.

Meanwhile, the likelihood of more lithium exploration around the ranch upsets caretaker Ivan Bender. The double standard in how Indigenous sacred sites are treated galls him.

"They come in here and desecrate your sacred land," he said. "Would they appreciate me if I go to Arlington Cemetery and build me a sweat lodge and have me a sweat on that land?" he asked, comparing the valley to another site considered sacred. "I'd rather they go somewhere else and leave history alone."

[Maya L. Kapoor is a writer and editor based in Lotus, California. She was formerly an associate editor at High Country News. Follow her on Twitter @kapoor_ml [15].]

Source URL (modified on 07/12/2021 – 3:00am): indigenous-religions

Links [1]

[2] indigenous-religions/@@gallery_view [3] [4] [5] off-a-new-era-of-western-extraction [6] [7] [8] [9] sites/ [10] [11] 662dcb69ca49.pdf [12] [13] period-lithium-exploration-project-near [14] [15]


How religious freedom law fails Native Americans In two ongoing lawsuits, tribes are fighting for access to sacred sites

By Kelsey Dallas on June 29, 2021 8:23 pm

This June 15, 2015, file photo shows an encampment belonging to protesters in the Oak Flat

area of Superior, Ariz. The mountainous land is also known as Chi’chil Bildagoteel. It’s

where Apaches have harvested medicinal plants, held coming-of-age ceremonies and

gathered acorns for generations. Ross D. Franklin, Associated Press

This article was first published in the State of Faith newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each Monday night.

One of the most sacred sites in North America may soon become a

copper mine. If it does, the dynamite used to extract the ore will

eventually destroy the land, turning a holy place into a crater as wide as

the National Mall is long.

The religious freedom protections that could save Oak Flat, which is

sacred to the Western Apache people, have failed Native Americans

many times before.

Judges, politicians and other leaders have refused repeatedly to

accommodate tribes seeking the ability to worship in peace, said Luke

Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at the Becket Fund for

Religious Liberty.

“There’s often just a remarkably callous disregard of Native Americans

and Native American religious practices. There’s a lack of

understanding, as well,” he said.

Along with his Native American clients, Goodrich is working to build

understanding and ensure that America upholds its promise of religious

freedom for all. They’re asking the court to block the mining project

and ensure nothing like this crisis can happen again.

The Oak Flat case and another ongoing lawsuit called Slockish

challenge us to consider why tribes’ pleas for religious freedom

protections so often fall on deaf ears. I spoke with Goodrich last week

about this problem and whether he’s hopeful about the future.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Deseret News: What makes cases involving Native Americans stand out

from other religious freedom cases?[gw_fbsaeid]&urlfix=1&adurl=,5828967,291740946,484312770,153388085%2526l1%253D

Luke Goodrich: There’s a real deafness and blindness on the part of

the government when it comes to Native American practices that are

tied to historic lands. You can see that in some past court decisions.

In the 1980s in the Lyng case, which involved the construction of a

highway through a forest held sacred by Native Americans, the

Supreme Court ruled there was no substantial burden on religious

practices, since the government was not actually physically destroying

the land. There was this sense that the government is entitled to do

what it wants on its own land.

What’s missing from that decision is the fact that it’s only government

land because it was taken from the tribes by force. It’s like the court is

saying, ‘The government took this land from you back in the 1800s.

Therefore, it can now do whatever it wants.’

DN: That Lyng case jumped out at me as I researched this topic. It’s hard

to imagine the court saying something similar in a case involving other

faith groups.

LG: Let’s think about it in the context of the Oak Flat case. Say there was

a cross on the land. Given past lawsuits, we can assume that the

government wouldn’t dispute that an atheist who is offended by the

cross would be adequately burdened under the establishment clause to

sue for relief.

But, at the same time, the government is saying that Apaches who

worshipped at Oak Flat for millennia and whose whole identity is tied

to that land don’t have a cognizable burden to oppose the government

blasting it to oblivion.

DN: It seems like government officials and judges don’t understand Native

Americans’ ties to the land.

LG: If the government took land owned by a Baptist church to build a

highway, the Baptists could build another church on the other side of

town. For many religious groups, that would be possible.

But Native Americans can’t go create a new sacred site on the other

side of town. Their religious practices are inherently tied to a speci�c

piece of land.

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