There’s No Sacred Land in Arizona

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It is becoming increasingly clear that government officials and politicians don’t believe any piece of land in Arizona is sacred. At least if that land is considered sacred by Native Americans. First, a coalition of Native tribes and environmental activists lost a long legal battle over the controversial expansion of the Snowbowl ski resort on the San Francisco Peaks (though some are pressing on), a move that involves creating snow from treated wastewater, what they see as a desecration that would be like putting death on the mountain.” Now, U.S. Department of the Interior office of hearings and appeals have rejected the latest appeal to a proposed shooting range in the Mohave Valley, despite challenges from the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe and the Hualapai Tribal Nation.

“After 13 years, the attempt to secure a shooting range in Mohave Valley is drawing closer to reality. The U.S. Department of the Interior office of hearings and appeals rejected the latest appeal from two Tri-state Indian tribes. The federal Bureau of Land Management will transfer a 787-acre parcel to the Arizona Game & Fish Department, which has set aside approximately $2 million for construction. Of the total acreage, 470 acres will be used as a buffer zone. Game & Fish would own and maintain the facility, located on Boundary Cone Road, eight miles east of Highway 95. Bills have been introduced in Congress that would end further appeals by the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe and the Hualapai Tribal Nation, which maintain the land is sacred to them.”

Which Arizona politicians are introducing bills in the House and Senate to cut off any further appeals? Rep. Trent Franks, a hardline social (Christian) conservative who made headlines in 2009 for jumping on the “birther” bandwagon, and Sen. John McCain, who also pushed hard for the Snowbowl expansion.  While these Arizona politicians seem to care a great deal about expanding how many days in the year they can ski, or creating a new shooting range, they don’t seem to care all that much for the welfare of Natives living in their state. Not that this is surprising, in Arizona unemployment among Natives in rampant, and their issues all but ignored. When American politicians do listen to the concerns coming from Indian Country, they are just as likely to be attacked as praised for their efforts.

Last week, the “Director of Issues Analysis” for the Christian conservative American Family Association, Brian Fischer, wrote a blog post claiming that “President Obama wants to give the entire land mass of the United States of America back to the Indians. He wants Indian tribes to be our new overlords. Perhaps he figures that, as an adopted Crow Indian, he will be the new chief over this revived Indian empire,” Fischer wrote. “But for the other 312 million of us, I think we’ll settle for our constitutional ‘We the people’ form of government, thank you very much.”

The reason for this hyperbole and outrage? Obama’s willingness to support the (not legally binding) United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. While Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States initially rejected the declaration, all have changed course in recent years. The United States was the last hold-out country to do so.

“While not legally binding, the declaration “carries considerable moral and political force and complements the president’s ongoing efforts to address historical inequities faced by indigenous communities in the United States,” the department said in a statement.”

One can see why some groups and politicians would fear any move that would give Tribal Nations more “moral and political force” to their efforts to protect and preserve what little they have left. To politicians like McCain and Franks, American Indians are simply obstacles. Irritants to be legislated into complete irrelevance. In their minds, there’s no such thing as sacred land in Arizona. Especially if it is not sacred land they can control. As the next generation of Native leaders emerge, we can only hope that a new respect, a new paradigm for relations, can be established.