Destroy sacred places, and the spirit of humanity itself is desecrated

By Patrisia Gonzales
and Roberto Rodriguez

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Photo courtesy of Zuni Tribe

Zuni Salt Lake


tand in a secluded canyon, admire Creation.

Admire the flight of eagles amid the deep blue skies and the red-brown-yellow canyon walls, carved by the energy of Ejecatl, the wind. Listen for the water. It's nowhere to be seen, but it is there. Around you are many unseen altars — altars that hold a sacred memory, connecting humanity to the beginning of time.

Hundreds of these sites throughout the United States are in danger of being obliterated by rapacious corporations that are guided not by respect forthe land, but by greed in their quest to extract the blood from our mother's veins. Recently, a National Day of Prayer to Protect Sacred Places was observed with ceremonies to bring attention for the need to protect these sites.

The universe is Creation itself. All comes from the same beginning, the same source. All is related, from the smallest subatomic particle to the largest stellar constellation. For some, this cosmovision, which is shared by elders from many traditions worldwide, leads to the belief in the sacredness of all life. This belief is antithetical to the beliefs of those in power worldwide, who approach life with seemingly a total disregard for all life, placing profit above all living beings, above the Earth that provides us our daily sustenance, above the air that fills our lungs and above the Earth's sacred waters that irrigate life itself.

One cannot expect everyone to hold such beliefs — in the sacredness of all life. For some, perhaps it's an alien idea, too human, too humane. Such beliefs would expose us to the fallacy of war and lead us to understand the extreme fragility of the planet. It might even lead each one of us to become caretakers, not simply of the Earth, but of all life.

Such beliefs necessarily mean we start by respecting our own bodies, not feeding them genetically modified food, nor healing with, nor becoming dependent upon, toxic pharmaceuticals. (It also means opposing the effort to genetically contaminate the world's food supply.)

"I can't think of a more sacred place than our bodies," said Debra Harry, executive director of the Indigenous People's Council on Biocolonialism. She screened the recent documentary "The Leech and the Earthworm," which gives an indigenous critique on genetic engineering, at the Native American Journalists Association conference last week.

Beyond our bodies, sacred sites are all around us, most in extreme danger. These sites — such as the petroglyphs outside of Albuquerque, N.M. — contain a sacred memory. Once destroyed, that memory is distorted and its spirit becomes desecrated.

Memory and creation are linked. Yet in a country that, in effect, celebrates historical amnesia, little wonder that any memory remains at all. Go to the Library of Congress and ask for the Native division. There is none. Nothing was here prior to the founding fathers. That's the consciousness of this nation. Or is it that the memory of this continent is too painful to remember?

Other sites are sacred for other reasons: because they sustain life itself. Virtually all water everywhere — but particularly in the desert Southwest — is in danger of extreme pollution and extinction due to the avarice of runaway tax-exempt and polluting corporations that leave at a moment's notice once they've sucked the Earth dry.

Zuni Salt Lake in New Mexico is another example of an endangered sacred site. The proposed coal mining, overseen by Arizona-based Salt River Project, will endanger the aquifers that feed the lake. In addition, the building of related infrastructure threatens shrines and approximately 500 archeological sites erected by the Hopi, Diné, and the Zuni and Laguna Pueblos, all of which have made pilgrimages to the sacred salt beds and who've considered it a zone of sanctuary for hundreds of years — even during times of conflict among the nations. The sites are also crucial to ceremonial practices and are part of sacred migrations.

"The aquifers that feed to Salt Lake give life to the Salt Woman," said Zuni tribal councilman Arden Kucate. It is predicted that the amount of water that will be required to facilitate the project would dry up the lake within 40 years, said Kucate. "And it will chase away the spirit of the Salt Woman, or she just might lay to rest there." Zuni teachings hold that she left from another site because she felt contaminated by humans.

Yes. Multiply this 100 times, and it's the story of the continent — of the planet. Where will Salt Woman be safe?

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About the authors
Patrisia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriguez have been writing the syndicated Column of the Americas, distributed by Universal Press Syndicate, since 1994. Their columns are reprinted here with the authors' permission.

Former residents of El Paso, Texas, and Albuquerque, N.M., they were inducted into El Paso's 1997 "Writers of the Pass Hall of Fame" and received the 1998 human rights award from the Albuquerque Human Rights office. In 1998, they served as University of California Regents lecturers at the University of California, San Diego. Also that year, they uncovered a series of maps that have located the "Ancient Homeland of the Aztecs" in what appears to be present-day Utah. This revelation is now the subject of two documentaries, "Going Back to Where We Came From" and "In Search of Aztlan," and three forthcoming books. A compilation of their columns, "Gonzales/Rodriguez: Uncut & Uncensored," was published by the Ethnic Studies Publication Unit at UC Berkeley in 1997.

More from the authors: How We Choose to Remember »

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