For somebody like Donald Trump, who sees a stretch pristine coastline as merely the opportunity of a golf course and a landmarked historic building as an inconvenienced to be bulldozed to make way for a new hotel, nothing must get in the way of turning a quick buck.
So it was only natural that he’d reverse the freeze on the Dakota Access Pipeline in order to keep the profits flowing for his campaign contributors.
But for many Native Americans, the landscape through which the pipline passes is a sacred text, a living presence integral to the stories of their origins and being.
Rosalyn R. LaPier, a Native American scholar and Visiting Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies, Environmental Studies and Native American Religion at Harvard University, explains in an essay for The Conversation, an open access academic journal written for the lay reader:
For several months Native American protesters and others have been opposing the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The plans for construction pass through sacred land for the Native American tribe, Standing Rock Sioux.
But, within days of taking office, President Donald Trump signed a memorandum supporting the construction of the pipeline. Recently a U.S. federal judge denied a request by tribes to halt construction on the final link of the project.
On Wednesday, however, the protesters appeared to have received support from none other than Pope Francis, a long-time defender of indigenous people’s rights. The pope said indigenous cultures have a right to defend “their ancestral relationship to the Earth.” He added,
“Do not allow those that destroy the Earth, which destroy the environment and the ecological balance, and which end up destroying the wisdom of peoples.”
As a Native American scholar of environmental history and religious studies, I am often asked what Native American leaders mean when they say that certain landscapes are “sacred places” or “sacred sites.”
What makes a mountain, hill or prairie a “sacred” place?
Meaning of sacred spaces
I learned from my grandparents about the sacred areas within Blackfeet tribal territory in Montana and Alberta, which is not far from Lakota tribal territory in the Dakotas.
My grandparents said that sacred areas are places set aside from human presence. They identified two overarching types of sacred place: those set aside for the divine, such as a dwelling place, and those set aside for human remembrance, such as a burial or battle site.
In my forthcoming book “Invisible Reality,” I contemplate those stories that my grandparents shared about Blackfeet religious concepts and the interconnectedness of the supernatural and natural realms.
My grandparents’ stories revealed that the Blackfeet believe in a universe where supernatural beings exist within the same time and space as humans and our natural world. The deities could simultaneously exist in both as visible and invisible reality. That is, they could live unseen, but known, within a physical place visible to humans.