Why Sacred Places Matter
Film series tells the stories of eight embattled indigenous communities around the world
Why Sacred Places Matter
By Christopher McLeod / triplepundit.com
Jun 14, 2015

In the last month, Native Hawaiians blockaded construction machinery headed for the top of sacred Mauna Kea, where a 30-meter telescope is to be built. Thirty-one people were arrested. In Arizona, members of the San Carlos Apache Tribe walked 45 miles to Oak Flats and occupied a ceremonial initiation site that the U.S. Congress has handed over to a London-based mining company for a copper mine. In California, the Winnemem Wintu Tribe continues their fierce opposition to government plans to raise the height of Shasta Dam, which would flood Winnemem sacred sites.

Sacred places are alive in the hearts and minds of native people around the world. Mountains, springs, lakes, rivers, trees, groves, caves—these are sites of ceremony, inspiration and learning for human cultures throughout time. From Mt. Fuji to Uluru, from Taos Blue Lake to the Grand Canyon, sacred lands anchor peoples’ souls to earth.

The PR-push to proclaim national parks as “America’s Best Idea” missed an important historic fact: Sacred places are the oldest protected areas on the planet. This is an old idea. Perhaps it has been buried by monotheistic Christian ideals that instruct man to dominate nature, or capitalist market values that dictate extraction and profit off land that is bought and sold. But long before there was a “protected area movement” to counter environmental threats, there were culturally protected places on every continent. And there still are.

Sacred lands are more than esoteric, spiritual sanctuaries. These places protect biodiversity. The World Bank reports* that indigenous people make up 4% of the world’s population and control 22% of the earth’s surface—and on that land is 80% of the planet’s remaining biodiversity. People whose connection to land goes back centuries and who have maintained cultural value systems rooted in sacred places have a superior land ethic. Period.

Over the last ten years I have traveled around the world documenting the uniqueness of indigenous cultures and the universality of values that honor the sacred spiritual dimension of land and water. Reciprocity. Reverence. Respect. Relationship. Yet everywhere I go, aboriginal lands are under siege, as new technology and energy addictions push corporations into more and more remote places to satisfy global consumer demand.

The resulting film series, Standing on Sacred Ground, shows Altaians in Central Asia fighting Russia and China’s plan to build a natural gas pipeline across a sacred burial ground on the Ukok Plateau, a World Heritage site. In Alberta, Canada, First Nations people suffer an epidemic of cancer, pull deformed fish from rivers and lakes, yet face a government that is totally supportive of a tar sands industry it helped create. In Peru, the Q’eros make pilgrimage to sacred mountains, their apus, but see glaciers—their water source—disappearing before their eyes as far-off carbon emissions warm the Andes.

Sacred places are important to hundreds of cultures that have suffered at the hands of missionaries who have warned them of their sins—including veneration of nature. As Winona LaDuke says in the film, “Sacred places are spiritual recharge areas, places of reverence where we are not only careful, but prayerful. In those places we reaffirm our relationship to our relatives, to spiritual beings, and to the land that is the source of our power.”

Ceremony, prayer and ritual still connect families and communities to land in a bond of love, affection and spiritual obligation. It’s what many in urban industrial civilization now crave. Sacred places should be at the heart of every region’s sustainability plan for the future, with indigenous people leading the way to create a new economic model and a new land ethic that can help heal our alienation from nature.

​The tipping point that will signal the transition back to honoring land as sacred could come with the denial of the Keystone XL pipeline, not just because it is a climate killer that threatens the Ogallala Aquifer. Keystone should be denied because it is dirty oil destined for the U.S. that is killing people, wildlife, rivers and forests in Alberta. It is unethical, immoral oil. It’s a violation of all that is sacred.

Davianna McGregor is one of a band of Native Hawaiians who created the Protect Kaho`olawe Ohana in the 1970s and successfully won a sacred island back from the U.S. Navy, which had used Kaho`olawe as a bomb testing range for 50 years. McGregor says, “Christianity severed the relationship of our soul to the land. Kaho`olawe gave us a connection to our ancestors and spiritual beliefs, and we were able to call back our gods.”

In addition to legal protection for sacred places, what we need is an apology, from the U.S. government to Native Americans and indigenous people elsewhere whose lands have been violated. We need reconciliation between cultures and with the land. This could unleash a cultural renaissance for indigenous people, and also for western civilization, painfully disconnected from nature but fully capable of remembering we are part of this Earth, not superior to it.

 

*World Bank report: The Role of Indigenous Peoples in Biodiversity Conservation, by Claudia Sobrevila, World Bank, May 2008; page xii, page 5 and page 50

Christopher McLeod directs the Sacred Land Film Project. His most recent film series, the award-winning Standing on Sacred Ground, tells the stories of eight embattled indigenous communities around the world struggling to protect their sacred places. It is now airing on PBS stations around the country. Read more at StandingOnSacredGround.org.

4.0 ·
1
Trending Today
How a Lack of Touch Is Destroying Men
Mark Green · 5,477 views today · Why Men Need More Platonic Touch in their Lives
Globalization Makes No Sense
Chris Agnos · 3,377 views today · When I lived in San Francisco, I often would marvel at the movement of goods through the ports across the bay in Oakland. Full container ships would enter the bay one after...
Proof of Evolution That You Can Find on Your Body
4 min · 2,276 views today · Vestigial structures are evolution's leftovers — body parts that, through inheritance, have outlived the context in which they arose. Some of the most delightful reminders of...
Immigrants For Sale (2015)
33 min · 1,966 views today · The detention of migrants has become a multi-billion dollar industry in which immigrants are sold to the highest bidder and traded like mere products. The Corrections...
Those That Did Not Seek Revenge
Dr. Ann Russo · 1,421 views today · Dr. Ann Russo on violence, healing, and transforming justice.
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 1,311 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
How Comedy Can Disarm Bullies
3 min · 1,309 views today · As long as you're funny, it can get you out of almost anything - even getting mugged, as co-founder of Between Two Ferns Scott Aukerman recounts. Unfortunately, not everyone...
DAPL Opponents Vow to 'Rise' From Ashes of Oceti Sakowin and Keep Fighting
Lauren McCauley · 1,276 views today · 'They cannot extinguish the fire that Standing Rock started,' Dallas Goldtooth declared
A Hauntingly Beautiful Short Film About Life and Death
5 min · 960 views today · The Life of Death is a touching handdrawn animation about the day Death fell in love with Life.
Compassion, the Antidote
Martin Doblmeier · 946 views today · Thich Nhat Hanh has published nearly 100 books and is one of the best-known teachers of Zen Buddhism in the world today. In the early 1960s his practice of what he termed...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 938 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Without Saying a Word This 6 Minute Clip From Samsara Will Make You Speechless
6 min · 859 views today · Can you put this video into words? It's a clip from the phenomenal documentary Samsara, directed by Ron Fricke, who also made Baraka.  If you're interested in watching...
Stunning Small Homes Form Part of a Communal Compound for Best Friends
Lighter Side · 849 views today · If you’re lucky enough to have longtime friends even as an adult, then you know probably already know how much it means to be able to spend time together. Maybe you even have a...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 773 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
How Wolves Change Rivers
4 min · 689 views today · When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable "trophic cascade" occurred. What is a...
The Foiled Bomb Plot in Kansas That Didn't Make Trump's Terror List
5 min · 683 views today · When a plot by a pro-white militia to bomb a Somali mosque in Kansas was foiled by the FBI last October, the aborted conspiracy received little national coverage - nor did it...
Where the Term "Redneck" Came From
15 min · 619 views today · If you don't know this story, you'll never look at the word the same again.  This is just a window into the sometimes shocking, subversive and untold history of the United...
Touch Isolation: How Homophobia Has Robbed All Men Of Touch
Mark Greene · 565 views today · Homophobic prohibitions against male touch are hurting straight men as well.
10 Words Every Girl Should Learn
Soraya Chemaly · 381 views today · "Stop interrupting me."  "I just said that." "No explanation needed." In fifth grade, I won the school courtesy prize. In other words, I won an award for being polite. My...
The Most Astounding Fact about the Universe
3 min · 259 views today · This is Neil Degrasse Tyson's response when asked to describe the most astounding fact about the universe. Background music is the cinematic orchestra - To build a home.
Load More
What's Next
Like us on Facebook?
Why Sacred Places Matter