Thursday, July 29, 2010

Elevating sacred lands and religious freedom

Lobbying on Capitol Hill in America's capital city for whatever cause these days is very competitive. Perhaps it has always been so. The difference might be that not too long ago there were simply fewer people riding in cars, buses or SUVs, preoccupied with the information and cross-communication provided by various technological marvels feeding the growing largesse of material, bureaucratic (and information) overload.

A group of native American tribal leaders have recently been making the rounds on Capitol Hill decrying Congressional stonewalling on a legislative fix to a 2009 Supreme Court decision that has limited the federal government’s ability to take land into "trust for tribes."

Why is this so important and how does this really correlate with religious freedom?

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) states the reasoning concisely:
"Land is of great spiritual and cultural significance to Indian tribes, and many Indian communities are still reliant upon the land for subsistence through hunting, fishing, gathering or agriculture. Moreover, Indian lands are critical for the exercise of tribal self-governance and self-determination."
The Friends Committee (a Quaker Lobby) rephrases it with more emphasis on the essential religious freedom aspects:
Native American religions practiced today, as they have been for thousands of years, are land based. Sacred places, which can be a specific mountain, a waterfall, or a place where ancestors left petroglyphs are at the core of many native religions. These sacred sites are often the centerpiece of a tribe’s creation stories and oral histories, which are passed down through generations. The histories and the sacred places tie new generations to their ancestors and the land to form the central bonds of tribal culture and identity. Religious ceremonies and rituals conducted at spiritual sites, using natural tokens such as tobacco, peyote, sage, and eagle feathers celebrate the creator of the earth and are the essence of native spiritual expression.
Read more about this ongoing story here.

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