Of Peace and Politics

Whose Land Is This?

Posted on 06/22/2011 @ 02:30 PM

Tags: Native American


Yesterday morning, I joined a small group of people in front of the U.S. Capitol building for a prayer circle to protect Native American sacred sites. It was one of 21 prayer circles in 15 states over the course of a few days. Many tribes were represented in the handful of us that came together in DC, including Akwesasne Mohawk, Cheyenne, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek), Omaha, and members from the Pueblo, Sioux, and Navajo nations. Each person shared which sacred site he or she was praying for, and what meaning the site had for its people.

I heard about Bear Butte Mountain in South Dakota, Petroglyphs in New Mexico, and sacred rivers in New York and the Midwest. Each of these places is endangered because of private development, oil and gas initiatives, or contamination. A young woman from the Akwesasne Mohawk tribe said that her people’s river is so contaminated with PHP that they haven’t been able to fish in ten years. Native American culture is tied to the land. And when the Akwesasne Mohawk can’t fish, they are not practicing a sacred tradition that is a given a right and a defining aspect of their culture. When native people’s land is destroyed, their culture is destroyed along with it.

I felt the resilient faith of everyone present. No one was angry, an emotion I think would be easiest to turn to. Instead, people were grateful for the chance to pray together. To see such strength and faith gives me renewed energy for my work on native issues and makes me proud to represent Quakers, who have such a longstanding positive relationship with Native Americans. After sharing that I work at FCNL, Suzan Hartog, President of the Morning Star Institute and coordinator of the event, said that she remembers that a love of silence brought her Cheyenne people and Quakers together several decades ago. “Nobody tried to make us Quaker,” she said, “and we didn’t try and make them Cheyenne.”

This gets at the heart of the relationship between most Quakers and Native Americans over the generations that we have worked together, and still guides FCNL’s work today. We believe in tolerance and respect of all people, and equity and justice for those who don't have them. Moreover, the destruction of sacred places is not just bad for native people, it’s bad for everybody. Contamination and exhaustion of natural resources are speeding up climate change and destroying the only home we have. We should look to native traditions as a guide for how the earth should be respected.

One woman shared a song with us that asked, “Whose land is this? Whose country is this?” The tenuous relationship between the United States and Indian nations results from different answers to these questions. Perhaps there are many correct answers. Whatever the answer is, Native American sacred sites should be protected, and whether it’s prayer circles or lobbying Congress, FCNL will continue to work to make that happen.


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