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An Examination of Increasing Protection For Sacred Sites on Federal Lands

Donald J. Kochan, Proceedings of 49th Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute (2003)

Native American concerns about development activities adversely affecting “sacred sites” have emerged in recent years as major impediments to mineral and energy development projects. Legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2002 (H.R. 5155) would have extended to Native American groups an ability to object to a wide range of activities on federal lands where sacred sites would be allegedly harmed. Addition- [12-2] ally, legislation in California granted significant authority to Native American groups to block a wide range of development projects across the state. Similar efforts have been made in other states as well. These legislative proposals are virtually certain to resurface at the state and federal level. In the meantime, federal land-managing agencies are under increasing pressure from Native American groups to protect sacred sites under existing authorities. For example, in 2000, the Department of the Interior withdrew over 9,000 acres of federal land to protect an alleged Native American sacred site in the vicinity of the proposed Glamis Imperial gold mining project in the California desert. The Interior Department in 2000 also created a new “mine veto” authority that could have been used to protect sacred sites, although this authority has since been rescinded by the Bush Administration. An executive order issued by President Clinton in 1996 di