Tribes, Club Win Temporary Protection for Sacred Peak
Mt. Taylor, an 11,300-foot peak in north-central New Mexico considered a sacred cultural site by many Native American tribes, is threatened by renewed uranium mining threats. But thanks to the efforts of a coalition of the Navajo, Hopi, Laguna, Acoma, and Zuni tribes, with an assist from the Sierra Club, the sacred peak has won a one-year temporary designation as a Traditional Cultural Property from the New Mexico State Historic Preservation office.
The New Mexico Mining and Minerals Division has a streamlined process in place that allows mining activities without giving notice to affected tribes when the site is less than five acres and there is no Traditional Cultural Property involved--bypassing an Executive Order signed by Governor Bill Richardson requiring statewide tribal consultation for the protection of sacred places.
Radiation threats remain from more than 1,000 mine sites abandoned after the end of the cold war, but the nuclear power industry is seeking to resume operations on and around Mount Taylor. Tribes oppose the plans because the state has failed to perform environmental analysis on underground drinking water supplies and impacts from exploratory wells, among other issues.
"The Traditional Cultural Properties designation means pueblos and tribes can't be ignored when there are imminent threats to a sacred mountain," says Sierra Club Environmental Justice organizer and Navajo tribal member Robert Tohe, above. "This decision will allow the tribes and the State Historic Preservation Office to carefully evaluate applications for mining permits that may affect the cultural properties."
The Sierra Club supported the tribes' application to the Historic Preservation Office, organized meetings bringing different tribes together, and testified on the tribes' behalf. Rio Grande Chapter organizer Dan Lorimer, below, urged protections for public lands on Mt. Taylor at the Indian Cultural Center in Albuquerque.