Preservation Concerns At Colorado Sacred Site

January 13, 2009

Author: Carol Berry

Source: Indian Country Today

“What makes a sacred site sacred?” was the question posed to visiting scholars from South America and the U.S. in a workshop at Native American Rights Fund in Boulder.

The answers came from a number of participants in the event, which was part of a study of lands in the post-colonial North American West conducted Dec. 5 by colleges of law at the University of Denver and Georgia State University, and by nonprofit Latina & Latino Critical Legal Theory, Inc.

But none of the answers were definitive. The consensus was that sacred sites in North America were defined by the indigenous peoples living where they were located, and were often locations where vision quests or similar rituals were held, traditional healing or ceremonial plants were gathered, or certain other events had occurred.

“Sacred places are hard to generalize,” said Steve Moore, a NARF senior staff attorney who has worked for many years on the protection of sacred places. “It’s the land that speaks to the people and the power of the place speaks to the people.”

He told participants about Valmont Butte, a volcanic formation that juts upward from the plains east of Boulder to face the Rocky Mountains to the west.

Cheyenne and Arapaho people had large encampments there in the 1800s, and the butte was also familiar to Ute, Lakota, and other Native nations. During tribal consultation, the Valmont Butte Heritage Alliance was told the butte “has always been considered a sacred place, a place of prayer, contemplation and reverence for all life that surround it, and all that it provides for the people.” Until recently, sweat lodge ceremonies were held there.

But sacred sites are part of a history of dispossession that may come to increasingly include places in South America, as well as those found today in North America.