American Indian groups asked the Senate Indian Affairs Committee Wednesday to help stop the building of roads,shooting ranges and other development projects in or near sacred Indian sites in Georgia,South Dakota,California and Wyoming.
The most contentious issue discussed surrounded Bear Butte,a site in the Black Hills of South Dakota used by several American Indian tribes for spiritual purposes.
Last year former South Dakota governor Rep. William Janklow,R,authorized $825,000 of a Department of Housing and Urban Development block grant to be given to a group of businessmen to build a sports complex and shooting range near Bear Butte,said Charmaine White Face,coordinator for Defenders of the Black Hills.
White Face said her group,a non-profit organization that aims to restore and protect traditional Indian lands near the Black Hills,recommends that the federal government protect all the land within a five-mile radius of Bear Butte.
“When you're up at the top of the mountain,you can hear things from miles and miles away,” she said.
Steve Brady Sr.,headsman of the Northern Cheyenne Crazy Dogs Society,said that potential developers need to talk to affected tribes. The group works to preserve sacred sites.
“They seemed to have weaseled out of it,” Brady said of the businessmen. “But we're not going to let them get out of it.”
White Face said her group has sued Sturgis Industrial Expansion Corp.,the group that received the grant money,HUD Secretary Mel Martinez and the city of Sturgis,S.D.,over the proposed firing range.
Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell,R-Colo.,the committee chairman,said HUD declined an invitation to speak at the hearing because of the litigation.
Sen. Tim Johnson,D-S.D.,said he was concerned about the firing range being so close to Bear Butte but that the use of the HUD grant was a state decision. Johnson also asked witnesses about a House bill aimed at protecting American Indian federal land from significant damage.
Suzan Shown Harjo,president of the Morning Star Institute,a national Indian rights organization based in Washington,said the biggest problem with the bill,sponsored by Rep. Nick J. Rahall,D-W.Va.,is that it contains no enforcement provisions.
“People take the attitude,‘So sue me,' because they know we can't,” Harjo said. “We need the door,like the rest of America has,to get into the courtroom.”
Harjo also said a requirement that tribes submit evidence proving the land is sacred is offensive and unnecessary.
She said her group wants federal agencies to ensure the locations of sacred sites are kept confidential to protect them from unwanted visitors.
William D. Bettenburg,director of the office of policy analysis for the Department of Interior,said confidentiality has become a difficult issue,especially when there are controversies that provoke public discussion.
“The department may need some legislation to protect confidentiality,” Bettenburg said.
Other witnesses cited development projects threatening other sacred Indian sites.
Brady said his group would like to see a Federal Aviation Administration radar tower removed from a site near Medicine Mountain in Wyoming. He also had concerns about coal energy development near the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.
Joyce Bear,the historic preservation officer for the cultural preservation office of the Muscogee (or Creek) Nation,asked the committee to request that the Federal Highway Administration consult with tribes about a proposed highway through a sacred site called the Ocmulgee Old Fields in Georgia.
The committee also heard about a long-standing dispute over mine proposed by Glamis Gold in California.
Gene C. Preston,chairman of the Pit River Tribal Council in Barney,Calif.,said the mine would damage the environment on the Bureau of Land Management-owned land it would sit on and surrounding American Indian cultural sites.