MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations

Sacred Sites: Acoma Cultural Province

"I’m very happy that people have come here from all parts of the earth to share and I hope that we can come up with a very strong declaration at the end of this three days that will reaffirm our natural laws. We all have them and I see that they are all basically one. We need to be strong in this. That’s the only way that we’ll do our best to protect the earth and assure the survival of future generations and all species."
Laura Watchempino

Laura Watchempino
I work as a water quality specialist at Acoma. Working with water is very important to me because working with water is working in support of life. It helps bring up the importance of preserving water in all its purity. When water is used in healing ceremonies, our ceremonies, it must be pure water. We don’t want contaminated water. And the best water comes from the earth itself, bubbling from springs and rivers, natural lakes, mountain tops, melted snow, pure snow. Today we’re faced with acid rain. Our precipitation is no longer clean. And even the oceans have impurities today. So where in the world can we find a pure system? We’re in a deteriorating, degraded world.

The idea of sacred sites and protecting them is very very important to us here today. I realize that it’s going to be very very important for us in this new millennium to strengthen our natural laws. It’s something that people all over the earth know about. We can feel it if you have a relationship with the earth, if you go out and walk the earth everyday and speak to your plants and your homeland, to the sun as it rises in the morning. You’ll have some guidance there. For those of us who are fortunate enough to work outside where we come in contact with nature all the time, we know our responsibilities to protect these things. And when governments or outside laws make us feel small and insignificant, we give up our power. We’re going to believe them, and say “I’m just one person, what can I do?” And that’s the very opposite of what we should be thinking. We should be thinking: I’m part of this earth as much as this stone, as much as this water, and I have an importance too. I have a part to play in the balance that we’re hoping to bring about. If we do that, in our hearts, in our thoughts, in our prayers, if we can be at one with the earth, I think we can have a lot of power. I don’t think we should let anyone tell us that we’re any less.

Our work protecting sacred sites is very important. We have someone in Acoma that always explains to us. He talks in story form and he reminds us of what grandpa said. Grandpa was pretty wise, because every time grandpa told us something, we saw it come to be. In my work, what we call our aboriginal territory of Acoma, which is a bigger land base than what we have currently today, is bounded to the north by Mt. Taylor. All these areas are places we go to protect our homeland (from) within.

So I began to see that if we do go to these areas, these springs, and protect these sacred sites, we will assure our survival and our future generation’s survival. And we will assure that the earth will be unharmed within wherever our Four Corners are. That was the concept. Working with water to bring forth to our tribal councils. How do we protect these areas? (It was) Thanksgiving morning, after midnight, (we were the) last one on the agenda and everyone was starting to feel sleepy. I proposed a resolution to protect sacred sites within what I call the “Acoma Cultural Province.” This area which we have always claimed is our homeland. Over the years, American laws told us that we no longer own our aboriginal territories. Our land base has shrunk, and within this small area, we only have a percentage of our lands that we retain. An archaeologist working with us to help us in our water rights case came up with the Acoma Cultural Province. It’s a term that everyone can understand that talks about our natural law and the way we view things – to go out to these outlying areas that are our traditional boundaries, protect them, and thereby protect the whole.

I proposed a resolution to the Acoma Tribal Council to protect sacred sites and cultural properties related to the Acoma Cultural Province. One of our elders said we have to go beyond that. We have to go to the North and South Pole, and the entire Western Hemisphere, because there are (other) places that we go to pray, and even beyond that to the Pacific Ocean and to other places. That’s why I use Acoma Cultural Province, because in a way, we’re all part of the earth. We’re never going to be bounded by one area. We do travel today to the far corners of the earth. That was the concept – to protect our homeland, to protect our waterways, to protect our sacred sites, mountains.

The council advised me to come back, because they also wanted a paragraph in there protecting and safeguarding health and welfare at the Acoma community now and into the future. (It is) because we do recognize that the cancers, the health problems that we’re experiencing, the asthma, the breathing problems, all (due to) the radiation that was released by mining and milling uranium in our area. That was something they wanted me to specifically note. We will use this resolution when we comment to these regulatory agencies like the New Mexico Environment Department, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, whoever is claiming regulatory power over these areas. And we (will) tell them we have a concern.

We want to protect our water quality, or this activity is going to degrade our water. And I can attach this resolution from our tribal governments saying yes, this is agreed to by Acoma as a sovereign nation. (This is) not just by a staff person that works in the water office, or by the governor that signs off on it, but by the entire Acoma community. I’m very proud to be a part of this world uranium summit. I’m very happy that people have come here from all parts of the earth to share and I hope that we can come up with a very strong declaration at the end of this three days that will reaffirm our natural laws. We all have them and I see that they are all basically one. We need to be strong in this. That’s the only way that we’ll do our best to protect the earth and assure the survival of future generations and all species.

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"We’re here to talk about what we can do to save the world from nuclear proliferation. Our world, we’ve come to find out, is very small. It’s not as big as we once thought. It is an almost impossible task to save the world from nuclear proliferation, but in my way of life, the Diné way of life, we believe that there are no impossibilities. Although it seems like there are only a handful of us here trying to make a stand against nuclear proliferation, the task is not impossible. It all starts when we come together from all corners of the world, like we are doing here this week. We can start by coming to the realization that we are all on the same side. We are all members of the five-fingered intelligent earth dwellers called homosapiens, human beings. It doesn’t matter the color, the creed. We’re all earth dwellers here, in this world."
—The Honorable Joe Shirley, Jr.
President of the Navajo Nation
Address to the Indigenous World Uranium Summit, November 30, 2006

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