Cultural rights are human rights. When they are threatened by public or private action, we are obliged to speak out.
In this, as in so many questions of culture, we are inspired by the words of indigenous peoples:
As Indigenous Peoples, our fundamental cultural belief systems and world views based on our sacred relationships to each other and Mother Earth have sustained our peoples through time. We recognize the contributions and participation of our traditional knowledge holders, indigenous women and youth.
Cultures are ways of being and living with nature, underpinning our values, moral and ethical choices and our actions. Indigenous peoples’ abiding survival is supported by our cultures, providing us with social, material, and spiritual strength….
We will reject and firmly oppose States policies and programs that negatively impact Indigenous Peoples’ lands and territories, ecosystems and livelihoods, or which permit corporations or any other third parties to do so.[i]
And by Article 11, part 1 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted in 2007:
Indigenous peoples have the right to practise and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs. This includes the right to maintain, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures, such as archaeological and historical sites, artefacts, designs, ceremonies, technologies and visual and performing arts and literature.[ii]
Today, we stand with many allies in support of the San Carlos Apache tribe in Arizona, which is defending sacred lands against the imposition of a copper mine that would destroy them, considered an act of cultural genocide. These lands are threatened because in December 2014, a land-swap rider was attached to federal legislation passed the “National Defense and Authorization Act”[iii] funding the Defense Department. The “Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act” gives 2,400 acres sacred to the Apache people to Resolution Copper Mining, a joint venture of two multinational multi-billion dollar mining corporations created expressly to develop this underground copper mine. Resolution Copper has plans for a deep mine intended to extract copper ore 7,000 feet below ground level. Excavating and extracting so deeply is likely to turn this sacred land into a “cave zone” as the surface collapses over time.
Protests throughout Arizona, including representatives from the USDAC’s Tucson Field Office, alerted us to this legislatively sanctioned threat to cultural rights. Resolution Copper claims the mine will create job and tax revenue. But the issue is much greater than dollars and centers. In the words of Tribal Chair Terry Rambler, “This issue is among the many challenges the Apache people face in trying to protect their way of life. At the heart of it is freedom of religion, the ability to pray within an environment created for the Apache. Not a manmade church, but like our ancestors have believed since time immemorial, praying in an environment that our creator god gave us. At the heart of this is where Apaches go to pray—and the best way for that to continue to happen is to keep this place from becoming private land.”
Policies exist that mandate and enable the preservation of sacred tribal sites, and they should be applied to this situation, putting an end of mining on sacred lands. The National Historic Preservation Act contains provisions whereby “properties of traditional religious and cultural importance” may be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and indeed, provides funding for tribes undertaking this work of cultural preservation.
In 2009 testimony before the 8th Session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Michael Paul Hill of the San Carlos Apache Tribe asked for “The federal government to proceed with a full administrative review through an environmental impact statement so that we can more fully analyze the serious impacts that this proposed mine will have on our people. Existing cultural resource legislation has been ignored by the absence of government-to-government free, prior, informed consent consultation and the absence of responsible efforts to manage lands important to indigenous populations, not to mention the public at large. At that time we will be happy to discuss in detail these impacts and the ways they may or may not be mitigated. We would like to work with our local, state, national, and international governments in identifying long term to develop economic development strategies for all of us that are both consistent with traditional Apache values and scientifically informed, environmentally sustainable practices.
We support a halt to this land-swap and a careful, respectful government-to-government process that respects cultural rights, refusing to transgress them for private profits. We call on our fellow artists, cultural organizers, on elected officials and policy-makers, on all people of goodwill to stand in support of the movement to preserve sacred Apache lands, in the name of the first principle of cultural values establishing the USDAC:
Culture is a human right. As expressed in the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community.” It is our sacred duty to remove impediments to the exercise of this right and to ensure that the means to exercise this right are available to all. In a cultural democracy, we are obliged to monitor the impact of public and private actions with these duties in mind.
Arlene Goldbard, Chief Policy Wonk
Adam Horowitz, Chief Instigator
Dana Edell, Secretary of Creative Sparks, New York, NY
Jacklyn Gil, Sparkitect, Providence, RI
Hayden Gilbert, Cultural Agent, Cleveland, OH
Beth Grossman, Cultural Agent, Brisbane, CA
Lynden Harris, Cultural Agent, Cedar Grove, NC
Dave Loewenstein, Cultural Agent, Lawrence, KS
Liz Maxwell, Chief Dot Connector, New York, NY
Kara Roschi, Cultural Agent, Phoenix, AZ
Michael Schwartz, Cultural Agent, Tucson, AZ
Jess Solomon, Cultural Agent, Washington, DC
Duncan Wall, New York, NY
Amy Walsh, Cultural Agent, Providence, RI
Roseann Weiss, Cultural Agent, St. Louis, MO
Yolanda Wisher, Cultural Agent, Philadelphia, PA
[i] State of the Rio+20 International Conference of Indigenous Peoples on Self-Determination and Sustainable Development, 19 June, 2012, Rio De Janeiro
[ii] “United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” available at http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf
[iii] Passed December 2, 2014. Section 3003 covers the land-swap. Available at http://armedservices.house.gov/index.cfm/files/serve?File_id=926D63B6-5E50-49FC-99EF-A59B98825265