Friday, 30 December 2011

Sacred Spaces: Under Threat in Lawrence, Kansas

In a few short weeks, a hearing will be held in the United States 10th Circuit Court of Appeals over the fate of sacred space in Lawrence, Kansas, USA. The Wetlands that are the subject of the law suit have a unique existence that catalogs the past destructive assimilationist policies of the US government towards indigenous peoples and their ability to not only survive but transcend those. It is shocking to realise that the Wetlands are still under threat.
Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, USA began its existence in the late 1800’s as an Indian boarding school. These schools were set up as part of the government policy of the assimilation of the indigenous peoples in the United States. The official policy and acts of assimilation supposedly came to an end with the enactment of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act. My earlier posting on this blog points to resources that indicate that the implementation of this Act remains problematic, and assimilationist attitudes towards indigenous peoples were not erased by the simple enactment of a federal law.

Haskell Indian Nations University has been transformed into a unique higher education institution, where “traditional knowledge and teaching methods are integrated into higher education curriculum” (Wetlands Preservation Organization, Student Life, Haskell Indian Nations University).

On the southern edge of Lawrence, there is a bridge that leads to nowhere. It was part of a planned road development plan that would have built new high speed roads across the southern edge of a town that was bursting at the seams from the growth of McMansion neighbourhoods and suburban sprawl. The planned road would have cut through wetlands that have become a sacred space to the indigenous community at Haskell Indian Nations University and beyond. Years of litigation has ensued. The case is currently at the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, with oral arguments scheduled for 19 January 2012. ( see here for more information).

The wetlands have become a sacred space, and the way in which this happened is poignantly described in a way that reflects the history of destruction and assimilation that indigenous peoples have survived: “Since the children were not allowed to visit their families, and since families who came to visit weren’t allowed to stay in town due to prejudices at the time, the wetlands became a meeting place for them. Children would escape to the wetlands to hear news from home and to pass on messages. The wetlands were also where children escaped to get away from the harsh boarding school…The wetlands became a sort of sanctuary for those children who sought to escape forced assimilation” ( Jessica Lackey, “Summer Intern Shares Environmental Concerns: Save the Wetlands”). The wetlands are in active use today as a sacred space for indigenous peoples.

Sacred spaces should be respected, not under threat, and it is alarming that this particular sacred space continues to be under threat. Attacks on the cultural heritage of indigenous peoples should have been consigned to the shadowy pages of history some time ago, but instead they continue in the present day--with no sign of abating.

This video here captures the special beauty of the Wetlands and provides information on the history of the Wetlands litigation.

Written by Sarah Sargent.

No comments :