Navajo Nation human rights officials attend sacred sites listening sessions

<i>Courtesy photo</i><br>
From left: David John representing the Diné Medicine Men Association, Dr. Anthony Lee representing the Diné Hataalii Association and Lavonne Henry representing DNA Legal Services and other Navajo human rights officials listen to Toni Stanger, Program Specialist for the USDA Office of Tribal Relations via teleconference on March 3 at the DNA Legal Services conference room in Window Rock.

<i>Courtesy photo</i><br> From left: David John representing the Diné Medicine Men Association, Dr. Anthony Lee representing the Diné Hataalii Association and Lavonne Henry representing DNA Legal Services and other Navajo human rights officials listen to Toni Stanger, Program Specialist for the USDA Office of Tribal Relations via teleconference on March 3 at the DNA Legal Services conference room in Window Rock.

ST. MICHAELS, Ariz. - Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission officials attend the final day of the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service sacred sites' listening session at the Shiprock Chapter House on the Navajo Nation.

There were about 80 people in attendance including NNHRC Commission Chairperson Duane H. "Chili" Yazzie. At the Coalmine Canyon Chapter House near Tuba City, about 40 people attended, and on Monday at the Navajo Nation Museum, there were about 50 people in attendance.

Many concerns regarding cultural practices were addressed.

"If a Navajo elder who is praying at their chosen sacred site, making an offering, or gathering herbs is harassed, their human rights are being violated," Yazzie said.

At the Coalmine Canyon gathering, people testified that Navajo people have been providing input since the 1970s and explained that policies have hurt the Navajo people like when forced relocation removed about 14,000 people from their homeland.

Yazzie said, "If you reverse the decision about approved wastewater usage on Dook'o'osliid (San Francisco Peaks), then these listening session will have made an impact. Let's see it."

Toni Stanger, a program specialist and the lead coordinating officer for the USDA Office of Tribal Relations in Washington, D.C., explained in a teleconference that the USDA is not interested in sacred site locations - instead the USDA is seeking recommendations to protect sacred sites. She also explained the information from the listening session will be added to the federal register for the USDA Forest Service, National Forest System Land Management Planning: Proposed Rule.

According to a press release from the USDA Forest Service, "[Secretary Tom Vilsack] has asked the Forest Service and USDA OTR to provide a final report and recommendations for sacred site policy changes and proposed policy language by November 2011, following the conclusion of tribal consultation."

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