Sacred places are the foundation of all other beliefs and practices because they represent the presence of the sacred in our lives. They properly inform us that we are not larger than nature and that we have responsibilities to the rest of the natural world that transcend our own personal desires ... There probably is not sufficient time for the non-Indian population to understand the meaning of sacred lands . . . We can but hope that . . . protection be afforded these sacred places before the world becomes wholly secular and is destroyed. - Vine Deloria Jr., God is Red
According to the Los Angeles Times and related headlines, a construction company challenges the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indian's testimony that the proposed site for a massive rock quarry would destroy Pechanga cultural properties, specifically a mountain peak where the Tribe's creation story arose.
Federal law recognizes the Tribe's right to protect and preserve that sacred mountain peak, even though it sits on private lands off of the Pechanga Reservation. Tribes can arguably regulate ''off-reservation activities that have significant effects within the reservation,'' which would include the disturbance or destruction of sacred sites on private lands (Wisconsin v. EPA). Tribes also retain usufructuary rights - i.e., rights to enjoy properties that belong to somebody else - in their off-reservation cultural properties (Minnesota v. Mille Lac Band of Chippewa Indians). Among those rights, tribes have reserved access rights to their cultural properties on non-tribal lands, particularly within historic fishing, hunting and gathering grounds (U.S. v. Washington).
Hopefully these tribal rights, recognized at federal common law, will be also be honored by the Riverside County Planning Commission before the world, or at least Riverside County and the Inland Empire, becomes wholly secular and is destroyed.
Gabriel "Gabe" Galanda is a partner at Galanda Broadman PLLC, of Seattle, an American Indian majority-owned law firm. He is an enrolled member of the Round Valley Indian Tribes of Covelo, California. He can be reached at 206.691.3631 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or via galandabroadman.com.